Gastrointestinal Health

When Bacteria is Good for Your Health

Bacteria is generally thought of as something that’s best avoided. However, there are certain types that are beneficial to your health.

Having good bacteria in your body can help relieve irritable bowel syndrome symptoms, such as constipation. Good bacteria also provide a little boost to your immune system and may help decrease vaginal yeast infections, eczema and even mental health issues, such as depression.

There are two main types of good bacteria:

  • Probiotics – These live microorganisms can go a long way toward improving your gut health. The most common way to get probiotics is by eating food such as yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, kefir, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut and fermented cheese, such as Gouda. You can also take supplements but it’s generally better to get probiotics from food.

Including probiotics in your diet is especially beneficial if you’re taking antibiotics. Probiotics help keep bacteria in balance so you can avoid typical antibiotics side effects such as an upset stomach.

  • Prebiotics – These are a type of fiber the human body can’t digest but serve as food for probiotics. Prebiotics can be found in fiber-rich whole grains as well as vegetables and fruits, such as artichokes, leeks, asparagus, bananas, onions, garlic and berries.

An ideal way to promote healthy bacteria in your body is to combine both probiotics and prebiotics (“synbiotics”) in a meal. For example:

  • A Greek yogurt parfait with berries
  • A smoothie with kefir and banana
  • A leafy greens salad with artichokes and miso dressing
  • A tempeh stir fry with asparagus and garlic

One thing to keep in mind is probiotics and prebiotics can’t make up for otherwise unhealthy habits. If you eat a high-carb, high-sugar diet, taking a probiotic supplement won’t change your health. Instead, eat a diet rich in vegetables and fruit, lean protein, whole grains and healthy fats.

To learn more about eating a healthy diet that includes probiotics and prebiotics, talk to an Edward-Elmhurst Health registered dietitian by calling the Outpatient Dietitian Office at 630-527-5059. You can make an appointment by calling Central Scheduling at 630-527-3200.