Diet & Nutrition

What you need to know about probiotics and live cultures

To give you a (good) gut feeling.

By BTYB Activia
With so much talk about gut health, it can be easy to think the heavy focus on the area (encompassing our stomach and intestines) of late is just a fad, to be replaced with a newer, more topical health concern at any minute now. But if anything, our understanding of the gut and the role it plays in our overall wellbeing is only just taking serious shape, with discoveries about the gut's connection to things such as digestion, immunity, emotional wellbeing and even brain function, being strengthened by recent findings. What's perhaps more alarming than the breadth of our gut's impact, is the fact that the majority of women consider themselves to have less-than-perfect gut health. Recent studies show that a huge 87 per cent of Australian women suffer from some sort of digestive discomfort — which is where probiotics come in.
For once, don't be afraid of bacteria
Your gut is teeming with bacteria — in fact, we humans have more bacteria in our bodies than we do cells, and the majority reside in the lower digestive tract (intestines). However, not all bacteria is beneficial, or belongs there, so we need enough 'good' bacteria to stave off the many and varied side effects the 'bad' bacteria can bring about. An imbalance of bacteria is known as 'dysbiosis', and can be a factor in many common nasties such as diarrhea, bloating and general stomach discomfort.
What about probiotics?
When a strain of good bacteria actually has a beneficial effect in the body, that's when it's known as probiotics. An increase in probiotics in the body is beneficial on many fronts; probiotics play a major role in digestion and, as such, can help ease digestive discomfort (something almost 9 out of 10 Australian women experience). But this is not their only benefit, they keep harmful pathogens at bay — for example, the probiotic Lactobacillus Reuteri has been shown to kill tooth decay-causing bacteria — and help maintain a healthy immune system. Probiotics may also help people with irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and even assist with easing yeast infection and urinary tract infection in women.
Recent studies show that 87 per cent of Australian women suffer from some sort of digestive discomfort.
How can I increase my intake of probiotics?
Probiotics can be found in many fermented foods and drinks, such as probiotic yoghurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, miso, kimchi, tempeh and pickles, as well as specialised supplements. A probiotic yoghurt is one of the easiest (and tastiest) ways to introduce probiotics into your daily routine.
Do all yoghurts have probiotics?
No, not all yoghurts and yoghurt products contain probiotics. Regular yoghurts retain some 'live and active cultures', which are the two bacteria (Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophiles) used to convert milk into yoghurt during fermentation, but these don't have specific health benefits, as such. Only some yoghurts are classified as probiotic yoghurts, which means they contain both live cultures and probiotics. Some probiotic strains, when consumed in high enough quantities, have been proven to have health benefits.
Therefore, to get the most out of your yoghurt consumption, look for one that contains probiotics with proven benefits, like Activia probiotic yoghurt, which thanks to the probiotic strain Bifidus ActiRegularis — that survive through the stomach, reaching the intestines alive; and is exclusive to Activia — has been scientifically proven by many clinical studies to help improve digestive comfort*. Yoghurts that have been 'heat-treated', a process often used to extend shelf-life, will generally have lower amounts of beneficial cultures as they die during this aggressive process. And some 'yoghurt products' such as frozen yoghurts don't even have any, so steer clear of these.
What else can I do?
To optimise gut health, dietitian Melanie McGrice recommends, "a diet rich in fibre, prebiotics from foods such as vegetables, legumes and fruit, probiotics from yoghurt, water to flush out your system and plenty of physical activity."
Take it from Melanie herself, who says: "I add some Activia probiotic yoghurt to my breakfast cereal each day, I keep a jug of water on my desk at work to encourage me to keep well hydrated and I try to walk or cycle each day."
Sounds good to us.
*By consuming 2 pots of Activia 125g/day during four weeks and maintaining a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle.
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