Explaining those food claims

March 22, 2009 10:52:23 AM PDT
More foods than ever are now carrying health claims on their packages. Two of the most common ones these days are "probiotic" and "prebiotic." What do they mean? And will they really improve our health?

You see the labels on products such as yogurt - they say "contains live cultures"....or "for a healthier digestive system..."

The human digestive tract has over 400 species of bacteria - some good, and some bad.

Antibiotics, stress, and a poor diet can sometimes cause an imbalance, with bad bacteria outweighing the good.

Debra Boutin, M.S., R.D., a registered dietitian and instructor at Bastyr University, says, "If someone does have a lot more harmful bacteria in their system, they typically have a lot of gas, a lot of bloating, possibly pain with digestion, possibly altered constipation or diarrhea symptoms."

So if you look for yogurt that has live cultures, that means it has friendly bacteria.

Boutin says that makes it a "probiotic."

"When we consume that food product, we actually take those good bacteria into our body for our best use," she says.

But Boutin says adding good bacteria to your diet isn't enough, because bacteria in "probiotic" foods need the help of "prebiotic" foods to survive.

Those include Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, bananas, and even maple syrup.

Boutin says, "It is a food that contains ingredients that support the growth and development of those good bacteria. So it is enhancing their livelihood, it's helping them to produce and to colonize, and then supporting their function in the intestines that way."

Boutin says a few grains, like wheat, barley, and rye, also have some prebiotic power.

For good health, she suggests eating pre- and pro-biotics 3 to 4 times a week.

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