We all have one thing in common when we think of food – to get the best nutrition from all that we eat. I was surprised during my recent jaunt to the supermarket to find that wheat had bran, bread had oats, biscuits were multigrain and I understood completely that India has changed. It is obvious that we are all becoming health conscious and the demand for health food is rising. However, food is valuable only when you get the best from it.
Our ancient medical texts and Ayurveda have constantly emphasized on the importance of the intestine, the main organ responsible for extracting nutrients and energy from all that we consume. But many of us neglect the fact that no matter what we eat, it is eventually the health of the intestine that will determine what value we get from the food we eat.
I was surprised when I learned that bacteria are an inseparable part of the intestine which cannot function without them. In school we were taught that all bacteria are bad and cause disease, so the concept of probiotics or good bacteria was quite unusual. But Modern science tells us that we have 2kg bacteria in the intestine. Probiotics are the ones that are indispensable for a healthy intestine. It may be worthwhile to reflect on how they work. For a start, the word probiotic comes from the Greek word “For Life” which means that they are life givers and we cannot do without them.
a) Maintain a well-functioning digestive system–
Probiotic bacteria improve the intestinal environment by producing lactic acid and acetic acid which helps in better digestion of food, absorption of nutrients and regular bowel movement.
b) Decrease harmful disease – causing bacteria in the intestine –
Probiotic bacteria can keep the harmful bacteria in check by competing for food and oxygen in the intestine and replace the harmful bacteria with the beneficial ones.
c) Break down undigested foods –
It becomes challenging for the intestine to digest starch, dietary fibre and proteins from the foods that we eat. Probiotic bacteria are equipped with digestive enzymes like amylases, lipases and proteases that break down the undigested food so that it can be easily absorbed by the human body.
d) Lactose intolerance –
We have often heard of people complaining of Lactose intolerance. This is a condition where the enzyme needed to break down lactose, the sugar in milk, is often lacking. This causes bloating, diarrhoea and vomiting. Probiotic bacteria contain the enzyme lactase which can break lactose into simpler sugars making it easy to digest milk and milk products.
e) Vitamin producers –
B group vitamins are found in fruits and vegetables and are often destroyed during cooking. Deficiency of Vitamin B is common both in children and adults. The good news is that many probiotic bacteria can produce water soluble Vitamin B in the intestine and may help overcome the deficiency.
Probiotic bacteria decline in the intestine due to poor nutrition, lack of physical activity and stress. Such lifestyle changes cannot be avoided but result in poor digestion,nutrient deficiencies, constipation, diarrhoea, acidity, allergies and sometimes even cancer.
The good news is that probiotics are now available in India in the form of fermented dairy products and can be consumed as a part of the daily diet for a good gut feeling.