The Difference between Probiotics and Prebiotics

The gut “microbiome” is a world within you.

You might think that your digestive system serves only to help you process and extract the nutrients in your foods. It does that, of course, but it does much, much more.

In fact, your gastrointestinal tract has been called the “second brain” – a complex system that sends and receives all kinds of information to and from your “first” brain. The “brain” in your gut has a variety of receptors that gather information about conditions in your digestive tract. It then sends signals to your “first’ brain, which uses that information to control digestive function.

The Gut Microbiome

An important player in all of this is something called the gut “microbiome” – which is really a world within you. Your microbiome is an entire ecosystem composed of trillions of diverse organisms (including bacteria, fungi and viruses) – weighing between two and six pounds- which has profound effects on your health.

One of the primary functions of the microbiome is to break down dietary fiber, since the human body lacks the machinery to get the job done. The microbiome also supports the health of your immune system (much of which resides in your gut), helps keep out foreign invaders that could make you sick, and manufactures several essential vitamins.

With so many important roles that it has in protecting your health, there is increasing attention to the role that diet plays in maintaining the health of your microbiome.

While we don’t know exactly what the ideal composition of the microbiome should be, we do know that the more diverse the population of inhabitants in your gut, the better. The foods you put into your system have a big influence on maintaining a healthy balance of the microbes in your gut which, in turn, helps your two “brains” to optimally work together.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are the compounds in many of the high fiber foods that you eat. While humans lack the ability to break down the fiber that we consume in foods like fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains, the microbes in your gut are more than happy to do the job for you, in a process referred to as “fermentation”.

As the microbes ferment the dietary fiber that you eat, they produce certain compounds that serve as fuel for the cells that line your intestinal tract, thus helping to keep it healthy.

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Healthy Digestion, Healthy You

Fermented foods are important for digestive health.

To keep your digestive system running smoothly, focus on fiber, fluids and regular exercise.

If more people really thought about how much their digestive systems do for them every day, they might be more inclined to take better care of their digestive health. Your digestive system has a huge job – it breaks down the foods that you eat in order to make nutrients and energy available to the body, and it is responsible for steering unwanted waste out of the body, too. On top of that, your digestive tract is a key player in immunity – the cells lining your digestive tract help protect your body against bacterial and viral invaders that could make you sick.

And, your brain and your digestive tract are in constant communication with one another. An incredible amount of information travels between your gut and your brain – so much so, that the nervous system that resides in your digestive tract is often called the body’s “second brain”. This system alerts the “first brain” if you’ve eaten something you shouldn’t have, and also keeps tabs on your hunger level and your mood.

And yet, many people abuse their digestive system – by filling it with highly processed foods, or eating too much, or eating too fast – and pay little attention to it until something goes wrong.

Key Components to Digestive Health

In the most general sense, what you eat and the way you live your life influences the health of your digestive system. A nutrient-rich, balanced diet helps to nourish all of your body’s cells, including those in your digestive tract. Fiber, fluids and regular exercise all help to keep you regular, and taking care of your “second brain” by keeping your stress levels in check can also help to promote digestive health.

Fiber and Fluids Support Digestive Health

Perhaps one of the most important dietary components for digestive health is adequate dietary fiber.

Most people think of fiber as the substance that helps to keep the digestive process moving. And certain fibers do just that. But not all fibers function exactly the same way, which is why we often talk about two types of fiber – insoluble and soluble fiber – both of which contribute to digestive health, but in different ways.

Insoluble fiber – sometimes called “roughage” – isn’t broken down by the body but it absorbs water, which adds bulk. This type of fiber – found in vegetables, bran and most whole grains – helps to speed the passage of waste through your digestive system, which helps keep you regular.

Soluble fiber– found in foods like apples, oranges, oats, barley and beans – thickens and swells up when it comes in contact with liquid. So, when you eat these foods, they swell up in the watery environment of your stomach and help to fill you up. But another important feature of soluble fiber is that it functions as a prebiotic – which means that it encourages the growth of the good bacteria in your digestive tract.

Your digestive system houses tens of trillions of microorganisms – made up of thousands of species – taken together, this bacterial colony is sometimes called the “gut microbiome”.

These bacteria help your body extract nutrients from your food, they help with the production of certain vitamins, and they protect the health of the digestive tract by keeping out dangerous foreign invaders. But this mini ecosystem residing in your gut appears to do even more – there is evidence that your gut microbiome may also influence your body weight, memory and mood, too. So, it’s important to provide these bacteria with their preferred source of fuel – in the form of soluble fiber.

You can also introduce beneficial bacteria into your system directly – in the form of probiotics found in certain foods. Fermented foods such as yogurt and kefir, pickles and sauerkraut, miso paste and olives are all natural sources of beneficial bacteria.

Since soluble fibers dissolve in water – and insoluble fibers trap it – it should come as no surprise that adequate fluids are important in keeping your digestive system running smoothly. But you also need water to produce saliva and digestive juices, and to transport nutrients to your cells, so taking in adequate fluids every day is vitally important to your digestive health.

Exercise and Stress Reduction Support Digestive Health

Regular exercise also supports digestive health in a couple of ways. As your muscles contract and your breath deepens during activity, the natural contractions of your intestinal muscles are stimulated, too, which helps to move food through your system. Exercise is also a well-known stress reducer, so it can help reduce digestive upsets that can occur in response to negative emotions.

The connection between your brain and your “second brain” in your digestive tract is something you’ve probably experienced in the form of a “gut reaction”. When stress or anxiety strikes, your brain sends a signal to your gut – and the next thing you know you’ve got a churning stomach.

The signals travel in the other direction, too – from gut to brain. When something in your digestive system isn’t quite right, an alert is sent to your brain, often before you even notice anything is wrong. Either way, this brain-gut connection suggests that keeping your digestive system in tip-top shape is vital to your sense of well-being.

The diet and lifestyle steps you take to keep yourself healthy are the same ones that promote digestive health, too. A diet that includes plenty of fiber from colorful fruits and vegetables and whole grains, adequate hydration, and regular exercise are all key factors. And take time to
enjoy your meals – you’ll be more relaxed, and less likely to overeat, too.

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Cooking for One? 7 Tips to Make a Healthy Meal

Prepare healthy meals in advance.

In this fast-paced world of busy schedules, we sometimes get into situations where we’re dining alone. This can be a challenge when it comes to cooking healthy meals. Most recipes are designed to serve 4-6 people. Extra stalks of broccoli or lettuce heads that don’t get used just go to waste. And let’s face it: sometimes it seems like too much trouble just cooking for one. But as the old saying goes, ‘Forewarned is forearmed.’ If you plan ahead and prepare, cooking for one can open up a whole new world beyond frozen pizza and instant noodle soup.

  • Keep your pantry and freezer well stocked.
  • I can’t say enough about having convenient, healthy items on hand. Stock your freezer with loose-pack frozen veggies and fruits as well as shrimp and individual chicken breasts. If you’ve got whole grain noodles, quick-cooking brown rice, canned beans, broth, tomato sauce, tuna and salmon in the pantry, you can put together a tasty dish in no time. It helps to have plenty of condiments and seasonings, too. My favorite stand-by “for one” is a quick soup: I add some buckwheat noodles, a handful of loose-pack frozen spinach and some frozen shrimp to boiling low-sodium chicken broth. When it’s all heated through and cooked, I add a drizzle of sesame oil and a sprinkle of ginger and white pepper. Yum.

  • Turn leftovers into makeovers.
  • You might love macaroni and cheese, but if you make a big batch you might not want to eat it every night for a week. Of course, you can put individual portions in the freezer, which is great for nights when you don’t want to cook. You can also plan to make the foods you cook do double duty. If you’re grilling chicken, make extra and add that to tomorrow’s pasta. If you’re cooking fish, make enough to fold into some corn tortillas with salsa for fish tacos on the next night.

  • Have breakfast for dinner.
  • There’s no rule that says you have to eat dinner food for dinner, any more than you have to have breakfast food in the morning. Feel free to have a veggie omelet for dinner, or have some of last night’s chicken curry for breakfast.

  • Find some one-dish meals that you like.
  • You can have a balanced meal of an entrée and two sides without having to prepare three separate items for one plate. Soups, stews, casseroles are a great option that include protein and veggies all in one dish.

  • Plan your meals ahead of time.
  • Make the best use of perishable items, like veggies. You can’t buy a half head of lettuce, but you can break the leaves, wash them and then wrap in a towel to store in the fridge, where they’ll stay fresh for 4 or 5 days. If you can’t find a single-serving bundle of asparagus, you can grill the whole bunch, then have half as one night’s side dish and toss the rest into the following night’s main dish salad.

  • Organize a dinner club or potluck.
  • If you know others who are in the same “cooking for one” jam, invite them over to cook together or organize a potluck event. If everyone brings a dish and swaps leftovers, you’ll get more variety and it’ll be a lot more fun than eating by yourself.

  • Adjust recipes when needed.
  • Even though most recipes are for 4-6 people, you can usually cut most in half with very few adjustments. There are also plenty of cookbooks around that are aimed at cooking for one. But some people figure that if they’re going to go through the motions of cooking something, they’d rather just make more and freeze the leftovers. That can be dangerous, though: If you’re craving a cookie, your recipe is probably going to leave you with enough dough to bake for a family reunion!

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    Go Meatless for Your Protein

    Try plant-based proteins.

    Maybe you’ve decided you want to go meatless once in a while. It could be for health reasons, environmental reasons, or maybe you want to save a little cash. Even if you’re going meatless only occasionally, your meals will be more satisfying if you get in a good dose of protein. Milk products and eggs will work, of course, but if you want to go strictly with plant proteins, you might be hard-pressed to think of anything beyond rice, beans or veggie burgers. So, here’s a rundown of a few less well-known plant proteins that you might want to try.

    Types of Plant Proteins

    Many people are familiar with tofu, which is basically cheese that’s made from soy milk. It’s available in textures ranging from very soft to very firm. Soft tofu works great in smoothies and shakes, while firmer tofu can be marinated and grilled for a tasty meat substitute. You can also freeze it. When you thaw it out, it releases its liquid and crumbles, so it makes a good substitute for ground meat. Calories and protein content vary: generally speaking, the firmer the tofu, the higher the protein content. Six ounces of extra-firm tofu have about 90 calories and 12 grams of protein.

    There’s another tofu product you may not be familiar with—tofu skin, or yuba. Yuba forms on top of the soy milk when it’s heated in the tofu-making process, not unlike the skin that forms on top of regular milk when it’s heated in a saucepan to make cocoa. It’s usually sold dried, so it needs to be soaked in water before use. But if you can find fresh yuba, you’re in for a treat. These thin, pliable tofu sheets can be cut into thin strips and added like noodles to soups or stir-fries. Or you can use yuba in place of a tortilla to make a wrap. Three ounces of ready-to-eat yuba have about 150 calories and 21 grams of protein.

    Tempeh is similar to tofu in that it is made from soy. It’s made from the whole bean, not just the soy milk, which gives it a firmer, chewier texture. The soybeans are fermented, too, which gives tempeh an earthier flavor that’s usually described as nutty, meaty and mushroomy. Another plus: the fermentation reduces a lot of the gassiness that often comes with eating soybeans. Tempeh freezes well, and you can also grate it to use in dishes that call for ground meat. Tempeh is sold refrigerated, and three ounces have about 16 grams of protein and 170 calories.

    If you’ve ever eaten at an Asian restaurant and seen ‘mock duck’ on the menu, it’s usually referring to seitan, or ‘wheat meat’—so called because seitan is made of wheat gluten. Seitan is usually found in the grocery store as a refrigerated block that you can slice or dice before cooking. Seitan can be baked, steamed, fried or simmered in a soup or stew. Since it has very little flavor of its own, it picks up the taste of whatever it’s cooked with. Three ounces of seitan have 90 calories and about 18 grams of protein. It should go without saying that if you’re gluten sensitive, this would not be the protein for you.

    You may be less familiar with mycoprotein, derived from a microfungus that’s cultured and grown in large vats. It’s not unlike the way yeast (also a fungus) is cultured to produce the familiar product we use for baking. The mycoprotein is then incorporated into all sorts of meat alternatives that have a texture very similar to chicken and a mild mushroom-like taste. Most offer at least 10 grams of protein per serving, but calories can range from 90 per serving to more than 200, depending on the item. If you’re vegan, read labels carefully—some mycoprotein products contain egg white as a binder.

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    5 Great Food Pairings for Good Nutrition

    Leafy greens are rich in calcium.

    There’s more to food pairing than pursuing what goes great together––like the taste sensation of chocolate and strawberries. To get the most out of your diet, there are certain foods you can combine that complement each other nutritionally.

    People often ask me if there are certain foods that they should, or shouldn’t, eat at the same time. Some people have heard that “If you don’t eat proteins and carbs at the same meal, you’ll lose weight.” But a study published about ten years ago debunked that idea. On the other hand, there is another concept around food combining––sometimes called food synergy or food pairing––which recognizes that certain foods offer a bit more nutritional benefit when eaten together than if you eat them separately. Think of it as a nutritional ‘one and one makes three.’

    How to Get Better Nutrition With Food Pairing

    • Colorful veggies with a little fat.

      Many fruits and vegetables contain compounds called carotenoids. These are natural pigments that give foods like tomatoes, carrots and spinach their beautiful hues––from the pigments lycopene, beta-carotene and lutein, respectively. Carotenoids function as antioxidants in the body, which is one reason why fruits and vegetables are such an important part of a healthy diet. These important compounds are fat-soluble, which means that when you eat your veggies with a little bit of fat, your body is able to take up more carotenoids. So, adding some healthy fat from avocado or olive oil to your salad, for example, will help you absorb the carotenoids found in the romaine lettuce, carrots and tomatoes.

    • Vitamin C with iron-containing veggies and grains.

      Iron comes in two different forms in foods. One form called ‘heme’ iron is found in fish, meat and poultry, and it’s more easily absorbed by the body than the so-called ‘non-heme’ iron found in certain veggies and grains. When you take in some vitamin C along with a source of non-heme iron, your body will absorb the iron better. And it doesn’t take much: the amount of vitamin C in one orange or one tomato can nearly triple iron absorption. So, tomatoes in your chili will help you absorb the iron in the beans. Strawberries will help you take up the iron in your cereal. And the iron in spinach will be better absorbed if you toss some orange or grapefruit wedges into your spinach salad.

    • Lemon and green tea.

      Green tea phytonutrients, which are naturally occurring and contain some unique and beneficial antioxidants called catechins, act to help protect the body’s cells and tissues from oxidative damage. When you add lemon to your green tea, the vitamin C can help your body absorb these beneficial compounds. If you don’t like lemon in your tea, have a fruit that’s rich in vitamin C along with your brew, like a bowl of berries or a sliced orange.

    • Fish and leafy greens.

      When you drink milk that’s fortified with vitamin D (as is nearly all the milk sold in the US), the vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium in the milk. But there’s another great way to pair these two nutrients––fish and veggies. Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel provide vitamin D, and leafy greens like turnip greens, mustard greens and kale provide calcium. Pairing the two will help your body take up the calcium in the veggies.

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    Make Your Oatmeal the Healthy Way

    Nutritious oatmeal – not so plain and simple.

    Oatmeal is a delicious and healthy breakfast staple and you can easily get it at nearly every coffee place and fast food joint. And why not? It’s quick to make, tasty, comforting and inexpensive. And since it’s viewed as a health food, it’s a pretty easy sell. But looking at the nutritional value of some available oatmeal products, oatmeal’s health halo is getting a tad tarnished.

    Oatmeal’s reputation as a healthy food got a big boost about 20 years ago, when studies began demonstrating that oats (specifically the bran) could help lower blood cholesterol levels. In response, food manufacturers began trotting out oat bran-laden garlic bread and brownies, and oat bran-dusted potato chips and donuts.

    A dash of oat bran tossed into a muffin certainly doesn’t transform it into a health food, but that’s how the health halo works. “If it’s made with oats, it must be healthy.” Plain oatmeal is one thing, but load it up with sweeteners, jam, sugar-coated nuts and banana chips and you’re veering off the path of healthy eating.

    So, here’s the rub. Cook up some steel-cut oats or some rolled oats at home, and you’ve got yourself a healthy whole-grain breakfast for only about 150 calories per serving. Even with a dash of honey and some chopped fresh fruit, you’re still looking at around 250 calories for an average bowl.

    A packet of flavored instant oatmeal racks up about the same calories, but it has 12 times the sugar of the plain rolled oats. And the portions are tiny––most people I talk to usually eat two packets at a time. So, now you’ve got twice the calories and 24 times the sugar of the plain grain.
    And now that the fast food places and coffee houses have jumped into the fray, it’s buyer beware.

    It’s the add-ins that do you in—the granola crumble, the sugary nuts, the jam, the banana chips. A tablespoon of brown sugar will set you back 50 calories (and believe me, most people add a lot more than a tablespoon). A sprinkle of dried fruit or nuts can cost another 100 or so—and suddenly there are more calories on top of the cereal than in the cereal itself. The oatmeal offered at one chain is topped with dried fruit, honey-roasted almonds and strawberry compote (ahem, jam) to the tune of 470 calories and 10 grams of fat. You may as well have a burger and a medium-sized soda for breakfast.

    To be fair, not all the oatmeal offerings are off the charts. And most are certainly better than some of the other fast food breakfast fare out there (sausages dipped in fried pancake batter, anyone?).
    If you’re going to pick up some oatmeal rather than make it yourself, pay attention to the nutritional facts— especially if you’re going to couple that oatmeal with a calorie-laden coffee drink. And don’t add insult to injury by adding more sugar and cream from the condiment bar.

    Also, take a lesson from those who’ve learned that “just a coffee and a muffin” can set them back as much as 800 calories. Unless you’re careful, “just a coffee and some oatmeal” could do just as much damage.

    Find out more at: http://www.DiscoverHerbalife.com

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