Are probiotics really necessary?
A dietician identifies what they are and why your child might need them.
By Tandi Matoti-Mvalo, RD (SA), MPH
What are probiotics?
Article originally in Parent24
Probiotics are cultures of the beneficial bacteria (gut microflora) that exist in the intestinal tract of healthy human beings. These bacteria include Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium bifidum and infantis. These names are scientific but, all you need to remember is that human beings have thousands of these beneficial bacteria in our gastrointestinal tracts.
How do probiotics work?
The positive role that probiotics play in gut health has been described as early as in the Old Testament where Abraham’s long life was said to be as a result of his high consumption of sour milk. Today we have much more than fermented milk as a source of probiotics.
Probiotics function in a number of different ways in the digestive system to help improve overall health.
• When the body is attacked by infections, the gut wall is disrupted and the pathogens cross over into the gut. Probiotics help to improve the permeability of the gut wall.
• Probiotics also attach to the intestinal mucus preventing pathogens from causing disease.
• Probiotics are also beneficial in stimulating the immune response in the gut.
• They help with digestion or fermentation of starches and also produce vitamins.
• Probiotics also increase the uptake of important minerals from the GI tract thus preventing deficiencies which lower immunity.
• Probiotics such as the Lactobacillus type produce lactic acid which in turn changes the environment in the intestine to being acidic and thereby preventing the growth of harmful bacteria.
Does my child need to take need to take probiotics?
If you answer yes to any of the following, then you should be including probiotics in your child’s diet.
• Is your child on antibiotic treatment?
• Is your child not consuming a balanced diet?
• Does your child suffer from diarrhoea?
• Does your child have a weakened immune system because of infections such as HIV/AIDS, TB and Cancer?
How do I ensure that my child consumes adequate amounts of probiotics to benefit?
There is no RDA (recommended dietary allowance) for probiotics, however, a daily intake of 108 CFU per portion is accepted as the standard. Food manufacturers in South Africa are beginning to add pre- and probiotics to food products such as infant formulas and supplemental drinks etc however this does seem to increase the cost of these foods.
Food Sources of probiotics that are beneficial to include in your child’s diet.
• Amasi or Buttermilk
• Other ‘fermented’ foods
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are food components that improve the food supply in the gastrointestinal tract so that the beneficial bacteria (probiotics) can grow and flourish.
How do prebiotics work?
Gut microflora need an environment in which to thrive. Fermentable dietary fibre is a source of prebiotics and the necessary food for our intestinal microflora. Inulin and oligofructose are the two most commonly studied prebiotics. Both inulin and oligofructose are found naturally in many fruits and vegetables as well as in whole-grain foods. Prebiotics have a promising role to play in providing relief from constipation and reducing diarrhea.
How do I ensure that my child consumes adequate amounts of prebiotics to benefit?
As part of your child’s balanced diet you should include the following foods that are high in prebiotics:
• Other whole grains
• Greens (like spinach)
• Berries, bananas, and other fruit
• Legumes (lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, white beans, black beans, etc.)
The first South African Food Based Dietary Guideline is: Eat a variety of foods. This will ensure that you give your child maximum nutritional benefit from the various foods.
When buying new products with pre- and probiotics, read the label and run it past a health care practitioner to ensure safety!
Do you find it easy to get your children to eat a balanced diet?