A look around your supermarket will reveal an increasing number of foods on sale that contain probiotics, or ‘friendly bacteria’, such as live yogurts and fermented milk drinks. These ‘friendly bacteria’, when added to foods, are considered to have ‘a beneficial effect on the health and well being of the host’. They are different to ‘prebiotics’ which are found naturally in some foods, e.g. bananas, chicory, artichokes, and added to others which are not the bacteria themselves but non-digestible food components which stimulate the growth and/or activity of friendly bacteria in the gut.
The health claims that can be made for foods containing ‘friendly bacteria’ is severely limited by the Nutrition and Health Claims Regulations and so far none of the claims submitted to the European Food Standards Agency for inclusion in the ‘permitted health claims’ list have been approved, so it is likely to become increasingly difficult for consumers to get information and understand how these ‘friendly bacteria’ could benefit their health.
However, one food you won’t find on the supermarket shelves that does contain ‘friendly bacteria’ but is known to benefit health is human breastmilk. Once thought to be sterile, research in recent years has confirmed that breastmilk actually contains a wide range of bacteria, including lactic acid bacteria with probiotic potential, although the exact composition of this bacterial component of breastmilk varies between individual women.
By providing a continuous supply of bacteria to a baby through lactation, breastmilk plays a significant role in the initiation and development of the gut flora of an infant which doesn’t become fully developed until around the age of 2 years. Researchers believe it is the presence of ‘friendly bacteria’ in breastmilk that could help to explain why breastfed babies suffer from fewer and less severe infections and lower incidence of allergies than non-breastfed babies.
Until next time....