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Should You Supplement: Probiotics for a Healthy Gut?

In the spirit of another Easter Sunday coming and going this past month, I have decided to resurrect my Should You Supplement nutritional series.  These articles are getting progressively more difficult to write since I have tapered my supplement use over the years.  Nowadays I am trying only to use, what I believe, are the essentials that I am not completely obtaining through my diet and what I use has to be safe for consumption with no potentially harmful ingredients, side effects or ill effects if taken in too high a dose.

I have always primarily advocated establishing a diet from a wide variety of healthy whole foods first before considering the need to supplement.  As we know the world does not spin perfectly and neither do our actions.  Vacations, dining out and the occasional junk food pangs can leave us needing more foundational nutrients than we are consuming and proper supplementation can help.

It is difficult to know exactly how much solid nutrition we are obtaining from our food, even if we eat healthy, buy organic and balance our fats, carbohydrates and protein.  Like our daily lives, daily changes occur from the amount of work we do, the amount of sleep we get, the amount of weight lifted and the amount of nutritionally dense food consumed.

Supplements are just that; supplements.  They should be seen not to replace anything you decide to avoid consuming; rather they should be used as an insurance policy to assist your healthy lifestyle and build up a healthy reserve for days that you cannot eat optimally.

By clicking on these links, you can find out more about the supplements I use as my insurance policy ranging from essential fats that are frequently missing in our diets, a little extra vitamin C  for immunity and cell growth, nutrient dense, whole food based multi-vitamins and even some muscle building BCAAs.

Should I Even be Concerned with Gut Health?

The gut consists of the intestinal digestive tract where a majority of digestion and absorption of nutrients occur.  The digestive tract consists of good bacteria or flora consisting of about 100 trillion microorganisms which is about 10 times the amount of cells in the human body.

Gut Health

With that amount of flora in the human gut its function is highly important in digestion and proper health balance of the body.  Keeping these flora levels optimal can be difficult to maintain.

These bacterial microorganisms are essential for a number of healthy processes within the body including:

  • Fermenting unused energy substrates
  • Enhancing the immune system
  • Preventing growth of harmful, pathogenic bacteria
  • Regulating the development of vitamins and hormones

Maintaining these good microorganisms is not an easy task.  Natural processes of digestion including the use of digestive acids and enzymes can reduce the good flora in the gut. Illnesses further decrease the amount of gut flora due to inflammation.  Taking medication and antibiotics also reduce the amount of good flora in the body.  Heavy metals and artificial ingredients found in our foods also reduce the amount of gut flora.  If this number gets too low or creates an imbalance, digestion will be compromised and eventually problems may occur that can lead to inflammation of the gut, illness and even chronic disease.

Chronically high levels of inflammation due to compromised digestive health may cause swelling and pain and damage tissues.  Diseases including Psoriasis, Ulcerative Colitis and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are all disease in which inflammation is thought to play a role.

Benefits of Probiotic Supplementation

Probiotics are supplement form of good bacteria and have shown to have health benefits.

There are several studies touting the positive effects that probiotics significantly reduce inflammation in the human body compared to a placebo. It has also shown to be effective against ulcerative colitis and also has helped patients who are on antibiotics when they were taken before their antibiotic treatment.  The probiotic supplementation reduced the risk of developing antibiotic-associated diarrhea by about 60 percent.

Proper digestive health begins in the mouth and many of Americans suffer from oral health issues with one of the biggest being bleeding and inflammation of the gums caused by bacteria.  This is also known as Gingivitis.  Taking a probiotic supplement has shown to reduce inflammation in the mouth and decrease the effects of Gingivitis.

Conclusion: Should You Consider Using a Probiotic?

There are plenty of studies and support out there which provide some conclusions that probiotic supplementation is best for people who have issues with their digestive system due to poor diets, illness, chronic disease or taking medication that eliminates the good bacteria in the gut.

My typical approach is to first make sure that I have my diet in check and consume foods that have high levels of probiotics.  Many dairy products primarily yogurt, mike and cheese are full of healthy bacteria.  If dairy does not agree with you or you are looking for an alternative try various fermented foods including sauerkraut and pickles.  Of course you want to get these foods in their least processed state to get the highest health benefits out of these foods.

fermented foods

When these foods are not enough and I am sick, traveling or not digesting well due to the Super Burrito I had on a Saturday night, I like to aid my healing with a probiotic supplement and my supplement brand of choice is Jarrow Brands Jarro-Dophilus® + FOS

Jarrow Dophilius

I do not use this supplement daily but when I am in a pinch I have found it very helpful in getting my digestive tract back to normal quickly.

References:

Gutsense.org

NBC News: Probiotics Do Ease Gut Problems, Several Studies Show

Nutra Ingredients USA

Wikipedia/Gut Flora

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Monday, April 29th, 2013 Nutrition No Comments

The ANDI Rating System

When I recently went shopping at Whole Foods (some of my friends tease and call it Whole Pay Check) the other week I noticed a small chart embedded within the produce isles ranking certain food items (mostly produce) in terms of their nutrient density.  The system was called the ANDI Nutrition rating System and I had not heard of it until I saw it at the store.  I went home and did some research to figure out what it is and if we should consider this system when purchasing our food for the week.

ADNI; What, who, why, where

It turns out that the ANDI rating system (short for Aggregate Nutrient Density Index) is a relatively new ranking system which analyzes many foods for their nutrient density and ranks them accordingly.  The ranking of the food quality is based mainly on looking at the vitamin content such as:

Calcium, Carotenoids: Beta Carotene, Alpha Carotene, Lutein & Zeaxanthin, Lycopene, Fiber, Folate, Glucosinolates, Iron, Magnesium, Niacin, Selenium, Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Zinc,

They factor in the ORAC score X 2 (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) which is a method of measuring the antioxidant quality of foods.

If the foods contain high levels of the above vitamins and have a low oxidation they are ranked with a higher score (closer to 1000) and if they do not possess the above qualities a score closer to zero is given.

This system was created by Dr. Joel Fuhrman who has a whole campaign called Eat Right America which provides nutritional education, current diet analysis and personalized programs that help people get on track to regain lost physical functions (weight loss, increased energy etc.) with a proper dietary plan.  According to Dr. Fuhrman’s site;

Our modern, low-nutrient eating style leads to an overweight population with common diseases of nutritional ignorance and medical costs spiraling out of control. We need to flip our traditional thinking upside down, and begin eating a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and grains.

Whole Foods Market has adopted Dr. Fuhrman’s program and looks to have an affiliate relationship with the program.  The Whole Foods web site does not have much information about the program, nor can you join or utilize it through the site but you can link back to the Eat Right America site.

Eat Right America; Is it for me?

With all the different diets and food pyramids out there this one tries to distinguish itself with a quantifiable rating system comparing food choices.  This rating system does have some draw for the consumer because using this system we can say that Item X is ranked higher (or is better) than Item B.  For a person who frequently consumes vegetables this rating system might be a good way to find some variety within and incorporate them into the rotation.  I now for myself I tend to have my weekly staples when it comes to vegetables.  I did look the chart over and decided to mix it up a bit and buy some organic kale.  It is interesting and not a bad way to supplement an already balanced and healthy diet.

Just with almost any system it does not have its potential pitfalls.  One glaring hole that I saw is that the ranking system included some potentially healthy food sources that ranked low on the scale which may cause people to believe that they are not healthy.  Food like avocados, walnuts, chicken breast, ground beef and olive oil all scored really low on the scale.  These foods, in their naturally raised environments provide a variety of nutrients for the body and compose a healthy and balanced diet.

This ranking of the potentially healthy proteins and fats on the scale may lead one to think that a diet of plant based foods is all that is required for optimal health.  Eat Right America also has its own version of a food pyramid with the plant food comprising the base and fats and protein sources at the tip lumped in with sugar and processed foods.  You really have to ask yourself, are they equal?

This step might be taking it too far and even the highly debated USDA food pyramid has a separate section for the protein sources and the sugars.  Without a little research by just looking at this pyramid, it may suggest that the only way to lose weight and be healthy is to have a diet almost completely based on plant food sources.

The strange notion is that when I was searching the Eat Right America web site to see if they flat-out say something like “we are a plant-based/vegetarian system….” I Couldn’t find it.  However I did find this statement:

Keep in mind that nutrient density scoring is not the only factor that determines good health. For example, if we only ate foods with a high nutrient density score our diet would be too low in fat. So we have to pick some foods with lower nutrient density scores (but preferably the ones with the healthier fats) to include in our high nutrient diet. Additionally, if a thin person or highly physically active individual ate only the highest nutrient foods they would become so full from all of the fiber and nutrients that would keep them from meeting their caloric needs and they would eventually become too thin. This of course gives you a hint at the secret to permanent weight control.

After this I was waiting for some suggestions like adding; extra virgin oil, free range eggs and grass-fed beef; But there was nothing more on the subject.  So the Eat Right America system seems a bit perplexing and non-committal.

Final Thoughts

As a scoring chart the ANDI system provides some different produce options and comparison entertainment, however using the Eat Right System as your source of health and weight loss might be ill-advised without some more research.

In the meantime keep life simple, just eat a variety of healthy foods, keep the nutrients balanced from different sources, take your vitamins and say your prayers and all should be right.

 

Resources:

WholeFoods.com

http://www.fooducate.com/blog

http://www.eatrightamerica.com

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Wednesday, March 30th, 2011 Nutrition 1 Comment
 

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