By Nishta Saxena, RD
Probiotics are getting a lot of attention in health circles lately. They’re being touted for endless benefits: better digestion, a stronger immune system, and even the prevention of food allergies. Given how prevalent allergies have become in recent years, it’s not surprising that probiotic supplements have become popular among pregnant women and new mothers looking to avoid eczema, asthma and food restrictions.
But are allergy parents in particular being given false hope when it comes to the promise of probiotics? And should they be shifting their attention to the lesser known prebiotics? Let’s break them down to understand what they are and how they work much better together.
Meet the ‘biotics
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that live in the digestive tract. They protect our bodies from harmful bacteria and yeast, support good digestion, help with regulation of our immune systems, and even help with our mood and brain chemistry. In fact, there is a direct link between our gut health and our brain. Probiotics are found naturally in fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso.
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are a type of fibre that feed the gut bacteria and stimulate their growth. Prebiotics are found in garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, artichokes, asparagus, barley, oats, apples, flaxseeds, wheat bran, and seaweed. They are also found in breastmilk. Prebiotics are essential to maintaining the health of the digestive tract, because they feed the probiotics and keep them healthy so they can do their job. So you can have all the probiotics in the world—but you need prebiotics to keep them thriving.
So what about food allergies?
Both probiotics and prebiotics are being studied for the effects on allergies because differences in gut bacteria are generally found in children who have allergies. The research has a long way to go—but there have been some positive associations between probiotics and reduced atopic eczema, particularly in high-risk infants (those who have family members with allergies). There still is no sufficient evidence that probiotics prevent asthma, and much more work needs to be done to determine which strains of probiotics can benefit those with food allergies.
Similarly, prebiotics have shown some promise but studies have had no strong conclusions in terms of preventing allergies or asthma. Still, the World Allergy Organization recommends supplementing prebiotics for non-breastfed infants, since they are missing out on all the prebiotics found in breastmilk. While science has yet to figure out how gut bacteria and allergies are related, it’s a good idea to include prebiotics in your diet—especially if you’ve jumped on the probiotics bandwagon! Marrying probiotics with prebiotics will help to keep your child’s digestive system functioning well, and if your child has food allergies, it definitely can’t hurt to include this gut-strengthening pair in the foods they eat every day.
While many of us have already incorporated probiotics into our daily lives, talk of prebiotics is still relatively new. If you’re looking for ideas, I’ve shared my top 5 recommendations for ensuring your child is eating this gold for the gut below:
1. Serve them spoon-sized shredded wheat and top it with sliced green banana for breakfast.
2. For their after school snack, chop up an apple into easy-to-hold “sticks” and give them some kefir on the side for a yummy dip.
3. Spice things up at dinnertime by including garlic and onions in all of your recipes—more flavour and a whole lot of prebiotic goodness!
4. Forget quinoa, make barley your rice replacement!
5. Include oats in your homemade desserts from muffins to cookies to granola bars—they’re the perfect prebiotic-rich ingredient.
About Nishta Saxena
Nishta is a Registered Dietitian, Paediatric and Family Nutritionist, founder of Vibrant Nutrition, and proud mama of two. She is a food nutrition expert on CTV and often featured at conferences and workshops. In her practice, she helps families through all stages of nutrition, from complex issues such as food allergies to simple, everyday healthy eating strategies. She takes a holistic, evidence-based, nutrition-for-real-life approach to helping individuals and families meet their nutritional needs in fun and easy ways. AllergyBites cardholders enjoy a 20% discount on their initial assessment. Learn more.
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