Our gut is loaded with bacteria, most all of which live in the colon. Understanding the role of these bacteria is one goal of the Human Microbiome Project. Do they have a function? How do they impact our health? Should we eat food that intentionally contains bacteria (probiotics)? Are probiotics helpful to athletes?
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are “live microorganisms that when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit on the host” Food and Agriculture Association (FAO), World Health Organization. Typically, probiotics are bacteria, but they can also be yeast. Most probiotic species in food are Bifidobacterium or Lactobacillus.
Are Probiotics safe?
Probiotics appear to be safe and infection with the organisms used is rare, and typically among ill individuals with chronic disease. Probiotics in capsules are dietary supplements, so there is little regulation to ensure that the capsules contain what they say they contain. If additional probiotic strains are developed, then these should be researched to make sure that they are safe.
- Help with digestion of lactose (the natural sugar in milk products)
- Maintain a good balance of healthy organisms in the colon, keeping bad organisms in check
- Improve digestive function and treat certain digestive diseases
- Shorten the length of and severity of diarrheal illnesses
- Prevent or reduce the severity of colds and flu
- Prevent and treat vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections
More research about probiotic use in athletes is needed, but what does exist supports “reduced frequency, severity and/or duration of respiratory and gastrointestinal illness” in athletes consuming probiotics. This is one area to keep watching.
Where can I get some?
Some common foods with probiotics:
- Yogurt, regular, Greek and drinkable.
- Kefir (fermented milk drink)
- Sauerkraut (fresh, refrigerated, but not canned because it is pasteurized which kills the bacteria) and Kimchi
- Soft cheeses
- Kombucha (fermented tea beverage)
Probiotics can’t take the heat! It destroys the live organisms. However, probiotics generally can survive being frozen.
I did not grow up eating Greek yogurt, but have found that I love it if I add a lot of cinnamon to it, so it is a regular part of my breakfast not only because of the probiotics, but because of the high protein content which helps sustain me during WODs.
What food with probiotics have you tried? Did you like it? Let me know what you think!
Happy and healthful eating,
Donna G. Pertel, MEd, RD, LDN
Trying to strike the right balance with the food that you eat? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.