Building Up Your Microbiome: Demystifying Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Exposure to Dirt

Krystyn Parks, MS, RD

The microbiome is thought to shape our immune system and influence our risk of disease. So what is it and why should you care?

What is the microbiome?

Don’t freak out.Your microbiome is made up of the bacteria, fungi and virus living in you, mostly in your intestines.There are many trillions of microbial organisms living in our bodies, outnumbering our own cells 3 to 1. What?! It’s actually shocking how little we know about this part of our body, but we know that food plays a role. 

What does food have to do with it?

Food plays a big role in maintaining the diversity of the microbiome. Research is looking into all the ways our microbiome may affect our health, including effects on the immune system, nutrient absorption in the gut, and possibly obesity. At this time, we haven’t figured out the “ideal” microbiome, so it is recommended to introduce a variety of prebiotics and probiotics into the diet.

What can I do to help my child’s microbiome?

  • Probiotics: Probiotics are live bacteria that can provide a health benefit. While supplements are available, the easiest way to get probiotics is to consume fermented foods. Most commonly, people think of yogurt, but there are many other fermented foods that can provide probiotics as well: kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kimchi, sourdough bread, and some cheeses. Keep in mind that some foods undergo steps that remove probiotics such as baking and canning. The recommended dose is 1 million colony forming units/ml or gram, however most foods will not be labeled with the dose. Current research is looking at early introduction of probiotics (commonly found in breast milk) and reduced risk of allergy.
  • Prebiotics: Prebiotics are the foods that bacteria eat. We are not able to digest some of the fibers in foods, so the bacteria in our gut take care of it for us! Some of the best food sources of prebiotics are: pulses (such as beans, lentils, split peas), vegetables (such as garlic, onion, asparagus, cruciferous vegetables), fruits (such as underripe bananas, apples, berries), and whole grain products (such as oats, barley, rye). Many of these foods are “gassy” foods, because gas is a byproduct of the bacteria digesting the fibers. Introduce them slowly to help with gastrointestinal discomfort.
  • Get Dirty! Evidence shows that our environment plays a factor in our microbiome as well! Research has shown that there are positive outcomes for children who have grown up on farms, surrounded by dirt and animals. Let your children get messy to help them develop a rich microbiome!

Are your kids 2 and Up or are you pregnant/ breastfeeding?

Make the family a Microbiome Smoothie!

In a blender, mix 1 cup yogurt, 1 cup berries, and an underripe banana. Add a handful of leafy greens (such as spinach) and a tablespoon of chia or flax seeds for a bigger boost!

Are your kids under 2 and eating solid foods?

Check out the App for ideas to get these foods in the first food line up.

Bottom line: Don’t freak out if your baby plays in the dirt. Dirt is cool.

 

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