Do you know that every inch of your gut, like every part of your body, is covered in microscopic organisms?
Shocked? Don’t be.
From your skin to the organs in your body, and especially the lining of your gut, you are covered in microorganisms, mostly bacteria – nearly 1,000 different species of them.
The presence of these organisms in your body creates a micro-ecosystem known as the microbiome. This microbiome, as barely noticeable as it, plays a vital in your health physically and psychologically. Yup, it goes as far as affecting your mood and behavior.
As it is with your body, what you feed your microbiome will determine the state of its health. Yes, they have their preferred food. And as we have established, a healthy microbiome equals a healthy you.
Having a healthy microbiome requires a nourishing balance between all the species of bacteria in your gut.
You can do this in two ways:
- Helping the bacteria already present to grow by giving them their preferred food, and
- Adding live microbes directly to your system
Prebiotics are the preferred food for the microbes in your gut while probiotics are the living microbes that you add directly to your system.
What are Prebiotics?
As established, prebiotics are the preferred food for the microbes in your gut because they encourage their growth. They are specialized and indigestible plant fibers and are mostly carbohydrates which the body cannot digest. When you think of prebiotics, think of fertilizers that farmers add to crops to encourage their growth. In the same fertilizers encourage the growth of healthy and profitable crops, prebiotics encourages the growth of healthy bacteria in your gut.
They are found in many fruits and vegetables particularly those that contain complex carbohydrates like fiber and resistant starch. Because these carbohydrates are not digestible in the upper gastrointestinal tract, they pass through the digestive system into the colon (large intestine), and there, they ferment. In their fermented state, they fuel the growth of the intestinal microbes.
Note that while all prebiotics is fiber, not all fiber is prebiotic. While you may get your prebiotics from your diet, there are also prebiotic supplements that you can use.
A healthy microbiome is beneficial due to the byproducts of the fermentation of fiber. These byproducts are called Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFA). As the bacteria feast on the prebiotic fiber, the SCFAs are formed and give the following benefits:
- A balance in the pH of the gut: A healthy gut pH is very acidic. SCFAs reduce the pH of the gut, making it more acidic and difficult for disease-causing microorganisms to thrive there.
- A boost in the rate of nutrient absorption: Due to the change in pH, the gut is better able to absorb some nutrients like calcium as shown by a study. In the study, 100 adolescents were given a daily prebiotic supplement and within eight weeks, they absorbed 8.5% more calcium than those in the control group.
- Prevention of leaky gut: Leaky gut is a condition in which toxins penetrate the thin lining of the intestinal wall and cause different health problems such as allergies and autoimmune diseases.
- Preventing the growth of cancer cells: Butyrate is one of the SCFAs produced in the gut and it has been found to inhibit the growth of colon cancer cells and reduce gut inflammation. Acetate is another SCFA produced in the gut and it helps prevent the growth of pathogenic organisms.
- Helps you feel more satisfied: With an increase in the SCFA concentration in the gut, you will feel satisfied easily, reducing the amount of food you consume, thus leading to weight loss. The metabolic rate of lipid and glucose will also increase, lowering blood cholesterol and sugar levels.
- Overall body health: SCFAs reduce inflammation throughout the body, thus improving the overall wellness of the body.
Sources of Prebiotics
While you may get prebiotics from powder and capsule supplements, it is best and much more enjoyable to get them from whole foods, say experts. Foods that are rich in prebiotics include whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, soybeans, potatoes, and yams.
What are Probiotics?
The microbial population in the gut can be altered or destroyed by antibiotics, drugs, or a poor lifestyle. That is why probiotics are non-negotiables in living a healthy lifestyle. Probiotics are living organisms that are introduced into the gut to directly repopulate the microbial ecosystem. They help improve vitality and stave off chronic diseases.
Sources of Probiotics
Probiotics can be got from food and supplements just like prebiotics. As with prebiotics, you are better off getting your probiotics from your food as you benefit from a wider range of microbes.
Probiotics are got from fermented food. As fermentation is a result of bacterial activity, a serving of fermented food is a prime source of gut repopulating bacteria. The most common probiotic food is yogurt as it is made by fermenting milk with different bacteria, which are left in the final product. However, some Nigerian foods are great sources of probiotics too. They are:
- Ogi/Akamu/Koko: It is produced from the fermentation of corn and when taken in moderate quantities, is a great source of probiotics. You can take it either as the steamed porridge called ‘pap’ or as a pudding eaten with stews or soups (‘Eko’ or ‘agidi’) is a great source of probiotics.
- Lafun: It is made from fermented cassava roots and it is taken just like Amala with a soup of choice. It is very popular in Western Nigeria.
- Masa: This comes straight from the Northern part of Nigeria and it is a rice cake made from short-grain rice that has been soaked for hours and then blended with yeast. It is also called ‘Waina’.
- Ugba: Representing the Eastern part of Nigeria, Ugba is also called ‘Ukpaka’ in some dialects. It is made from fermenting African oil bean seed extensively. While it is a major ingredient in Abacha (African Salad), it can also be made into a spicy salad on its own.
- Locust beans: Its local name is ‘Iru’ and it is fermented African locust beans. It is used majorly in Western Nigeria as a condiment to spice soups.
- Burukutu: It is a beer-like drink brewed from Guinea corn by steeping, malting, mashing, fermenting, and maturing the corn.
- Palm wine
- Garri: Made from soaked, fermented, mashed, and dry-fried cassava, it is a versatile staple in Nigeria. It can be used to make snacks like Kokoro, taken on its own as a cereal-like meal, made into eba, or sprinkled over beans.
- Nunu: popular with the Northern tribes of Nigeria, Nunu is local fermented milk made into a yogurt-like drink. It is then taken with millet paste called Fura, hence the name Fura de Nunu.
- Kenke: though it is a predominantly Ghanain dish, you can get it in Nigeria. It is made from fermented white corn and eaten with a peppery sauce and any protein of choice.
What does this have to do with weight loss?
If you believe that you are not losing weight as you should or as you would like, it might be because of your gut health.
Studies have shown that the gut microbiome, which is the bacteria that contribute to food digestion and absorption of nutrients for energy can affect your weight loss result.
This study published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that taking probiotics even before beginning your weight can significantly affect your progress.
Having a balanced digestive system is important for every of your health.
To achieve balanced gut health, you need to incorporate several prebiotics and probiotics food into your diet.
Additionally, it can improve your weight loss results.
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