by Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN

‘Tis the season for travel, end-of-year deadlines, festive get-togethers… and for colds and flu. If you or your family are under the weather, or you want to preempt any illness by giving your immune system some reinforcement, read on!

Part of the body’s “microbiota,” probiotics (the “good” bacteria) and prebiotics (the “good” bacteria promoters) are mostly known for promoting good digestion, but they also play vital roles in supporting the strength of your immune system [1]. Approximately 80% of your immune system is in your GI system, and these help replenish your stores of healthy gut bacteria, inhibit growth of unfriendly bacteria, and can also help reduce inflammation.

Probiotics and prebiotics are best utilized in food form (as opposed to supplements) and, fortunately for us, are found in many common ingredients – some of which we may already have stocked at home.

Probiotics are found in:

·         Yogurt (look for packages labeled “Contains Live/Active Cultures”)

·         Buttermilk

·         Aged cheeses

·         Fermented beverages, like kefir and kombucha

·         Fermented foods, like miso, tempeh, kimchi and sauerkraut

·         Soy beverages

Prebiotics are found in:

·         Bananas, apples and berries

·         Onions, leeks and garlic

·         Potatoes

·         Asparagus

·         Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)

·         Dark leafy greens, like dandelion greens, spinach, collards, kale and chard

·         Tomatoes

·         Soybeans and lentils

·         Pistachios and flaxseed

·         Cocoa

·         Rolled oats/oatmeal

·         Whole grains and whole grain flours, including wheat, rye, barley and buckwheat

Food forms of probiotics and prebiotics are further maximized when enjoyed in combination with one another. For example, a bowl of oatmeal topped with banana and a dollop of yogurt; a stir fry with garlic, asparagus, edamame and tempeh; or a homemade pizza on whole wheat crust or a whole grain pita bread with tomato sauce, artichokes, red onion, black olives and Parmesan cheese!

Most of the foods and beverages rich in probiotic and prebiotics are also loaded with many other nutrients important in the fight against infection and illness, like vitamins A and C, folate, zinc, fiber, and plenty of potent antioxidant phytochemicals. In addition, these friendly bacteria help improve our body’s ability to utilize these beneficial nutrients, providing an even bigger immunity bump.

Better still is that pro- and prebiotics have also been linked to improvements in treatment or prevention of a variety of other health issues [2], including IBS (particularly reducing abdominal pain, gas and bloating), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, infections of the urinary tract, and potentially type 2 diabetes [3], bladder cancer recurrence, and eczema in children.

This cold and flu season, and all year round, add a wide variety of probiotic- and prebiotic-rich foods and beverages to your daily diet to help support a strong, healthy immune system and ward off illness. Be well!

REFERENCES

1. Giorgetti G, Brandimarte G, Fabiocchi F, et al. Interactions between Innate Immunity, Microbiota, and Probiotics. Jour Immun Res. 2015;2015:501361. doi:10.1155/2015/501361.

2. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. (2014) The Benefits of Probiotic Bacteria. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-benefits-of-probiotics. Updated 7 June 2017. Accessed 30 November 2017.

3. Bakalar, N. (24 November 2014) Yogurt May Lower Diabetes Risk. The New York Times Well Blog. Retrieved from https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/yogurt-may-lower-diabetes-risk/?_r=1. Accessed 30 November 2017.

Top 10 Q & A about Sugar and Sugar Substitutes

by Jessie Funchion, MS, RD, LDN

1) What’s considered added vs. natural sugar? Added = white or brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, agave, molasses or syrup and products made with these foods. Natural = sugars found in fruit (fructose) and dairy (lactose)

2) How much added sugar are we consuming? The average American consumes 20 tablespoons of added sugar a day. YIKES! About half that is coming from Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSBs).

3) How much added sugar should we consume? Depends who you ask. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 6 teaspoons for women, or 100 calories a day and 9 teaspoons for men or 150 calories a day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans of 2015 recommends 10% of total calories or less while the World Health Organization is the most stringent at 5% of total calories or less. One thing we can all agree on – less is better!

4) Do we NEED sugar? No. We do need blood glucose, which comes from complex carbohydrates in our diet. But we could survive without any dietary sugar!

5) Does sugar cause obesity? No one food alone causes obesity. Consumption of sugary foods and drinks correlates with a higher calorie diet overall, which contributes to weight gain.

6) Does sugar cause health issues? Sugar consumption is correlated with weight gain, and weight gain is a risk factor for many diseases. So, it certainly may increase risk for disease. Interestingly, separate from weight, sugar consumption is also associated with the following diseases: high blood lipids and insulin resistance, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and visceral adiposity. Even in those with a healthy BMI, sugar consumption can increase risk of these diseases.

7) What sugar substitutes are available? Aspartame (Equal), Acesulfame-K (Sweet One), Neotame, Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low), Sucralose (Splenda), Stevia (Truvia), Sugar alcohols (end with -ol, like xylitol or sorbitol)

8) What does the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say? From the AND’s Position Paper: “It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive sweeteners and nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS) when consumed within an eating plan that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Dietary Reference Intakes, as well as individual health goals and personal preference. A preference for sweet taste is innate and sweeteners can increase the pleasure of eating.”

9) Do sugar substitutes cause cancer? Currently, the research points to no. From the National Cancer Institute: “Researchers have conducted studies on the safety of sugar substitutes saccharin cyclamate, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose and neotame and found no evidence that they cause cancer in humans. 
All of these artificial sweeteners, except for cyclamate, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sale in the United States.”

10) Are there any valid concerns with sugar substitutes? Yes, a growing body of research points to sugar substitutes leading to health issues in animal studies. Some of these issues include: increased food consumption, lower post-prandial thermogenesis, increased weight gain, greater percent body fat, decreased glucose tolerance, greater fasting glucose and hyperinsulinemia.

So, while they may be SAFE for consumption, they may not exactly be healthful.