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Prebiotics and probiotics are our allies for a healthy belly. What is it about ? How do they work and where to find them?
Prebiotics, to feed our microbiota
What is ?
Just as a car with a combustion engine cannot run without gasoline, our microbiota needs energy and specific nutrients to nourish itself, stay in balance and effectively resist aggression. That fuel is prebiotics, compounds found in high-fiber foods. It is a complex chain of sugar molecules that our body cannot digest, but that the intestinal bacteria appreciate.
How do prebiotics work? act on the gut?
Two main actions: on the one hand, prebiotics stimulate the growth and activity of certain friendly bacteria –such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli– to the detriment of pathogens; on the other hand, by degrading these fibers, the bacteria release beneficial compounds for the body. “These significantly improve the functioning of the immune system, regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels or promote fat metabolism,” summarizes gastroenterologist William Berrebi.
Where are prebiotics found?
Plants are full of them, especially whole grains, legumes (lentils, broad beans, beans, etc.), but also vegetables and fruits. Among the best contributed: artichokes, onions, leeks, garlic… And, on the sweet side, apples, pears, apricots, red fruits, bananas, dried fruits and nuts. It is recommended to consume at least 30 g of fiber per day. A relatively easy amount to obtain, according to Dr. Berrebi: “You just need a varied diet. This corresponds, per meal, to 150-200 g of raw vegetables, 150-200 g of cooked vegetables, two small (or one large) fruit and 100 g of rye bread. Also change some reflexes by eating an apple instead of a cake in case of a little hunger. » Are we at risk of eating too much fiber? No, except for possible digestive discomfort.
The extra: bet on the seeds
It is enough to adopt simple reflexes to include fiber in your diet: sprinkle your yogurts with wheat bran, oatmeal or psyllium; decorate salads with sesame, pumpkin or flax seeds; consume fresh fruit (preferably with skin) instead of juice; and, for cakes, replace some of the white flour with whole wheat flour.
The Right Recipe: The Special Fiber Shake
This drink has its good points: it provides vitamins A, E, B, C… but also minerals (potassium, magnesium…) and fiber in large quantities. Take a banana, two apples, a handful of spinach, two courgettes and 250 ml of oat milk (prefer organic products to limit the pesticide content). Cut the peeled fruits and vegetables into pieces, then place them in a blender. Add the oat milk and mix everything. He’s prepared !
Probiotics, to fill up on good bacteria
What is ?
According to the World Health Organization, “probiotics are live microorganisms that, when ingested in sufficient quantities, exert positive effects on health”. Specifically, under this name both good bacteria and yeasts, small fungi, are hidden, which will improve the diversity and quality of our intestinal microbiota.
How do they act on the intestine?
Not all the mechanisms are known, but they seem multiple. First of all, when they reach the digestive system, these good bacteria compete with the bad ones and thus limit their development. They also influence the barrier effect of the intestine, by stimulating the production of mucus that will prevent the adherence of pathogens. Another type of action: “Bifidobacteria, for example, will increase the level of so-called tight junction proteins, which allow the cells of the epithelium (the protective layer of the intestine) to ensure good permeability”, specifies Philippe Langella, research director . in Inrae.
Where are they?
First source: food. We bet on fermented vegetables (raw sauerkraut, but also olives, pickles, carrots, celery, etc.), sourdough bread, certain cheeses (especially raw milk, to eat with the rind) and, of course, fermented milk or yogurts, resulting from the fermentation of milk by lactic acid bacteria. Some drinks are also on the rise, such as kefir or kombucha, made from milk, sugar water or fermented tea. What about dietary supplements? Unlike drugs, they do not need to be proven effective to be marketed. But many publications suggest that they may be interested in various indications.
The extra: move regularly
Studies carried out with volunteers of different profiles (high-level athletes, women cured of cancer, etc.) confirm that regular physical activity is good for the microbiota. By what mechanisms? Muscle contractions associated with oxygen consumption would improve both bacterial diversity and the proportion of good bacteria.
The right recipe: kefir, super fermented drink
Mix 1 liter of water, 100 g of kefir grains, 1 dried fig, 1/2 lemon and 50 g of sugar. Cover with a cloth and let stand for 24 hours at room temperature. Filter, then store in the refrigerator for another 24 hours in a closed jar…and enjoy.
“Sometimes a cure is necessary”
William Berrebi, gastroenterologist, hepatologist and author of the book microbiotic medicine (ed.Marabout, 2022).
I’m interested: Should we take probiotics as a dietary supplement?
Guillermo Berrebi: They can be interesting to boost immunity before the arrival of winter, but also in various pathologies. I advise you to consult a doctor. For example, if you have transit disorders and abdominal pain and are considering taking a cure for irritable bowel syndrome, it is important to have a general practitioner or gastroenterologist confirm this diagnosis and rule out any other cause, including organic disease.
What types of products should be preferred?
First, choose those whose strains are identifiable. In the box, you should see the type (lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria…), the type (bulgarian…) and the tension (letters or a number). Today, manufacturers offer combinations of various strains, but no publication has shown it to be effective. It is better to limit yourself to just one. Also check the number of bacteria – each capsule should have at least a billion. The “microencapsulates” are protected by a lipid layer to resist the acidity of the digestive system: they are more reliable than freeze-dried forms. Packaging is also important because bacteria are sensitive to air or moisture. It is better to choose the capsules in blister than those that are presented in a bottle.
How long does a cure last?
Probiotics do not permanently colonize the intestine, their effect is only transitory. In order for the bacteria to be in sufficient quantity and have a positive impact, the cure must be quite long, between one and three months. I also recommend taking them in the morning on an empty stomach, at least thirty minutes before consuming a hot drink.
TO KNOW MORE
Stress, hypersensitivity, depression… What if the solution came from our bacteria?, Gabriel Perlemuter, ed. Flammarion, 2020.
The Microbiota, a friend that protects you, Patrick Hillon, ed. Eyrolles, 2020.