Shanti Wolfe, RD Tells Us How Prebiotics and Probiotics Work Together for Better Protein Digestion
We're excited to welcome Shanti Wolfe, RD as our Rowdy guest author this week! Shanti gives us a registered dietitian's insight on how probiotics and prebiotics help us properly absorb the protein we need to keep us happy, healthy and moving!
Can probiotics and prebiotics improve protein digestion?
By: Shanti Wolfe, RD
If you’re an athlete or live an active life, you already know the importance of daily protein, and you’re probably aware of all the different sources of protein. Finally, I'm sure you’ve heard the phrase, “You are what you eat”, which is false on a number of levels. A more appropriate phrase would be, “You are what you digest and absorb.”
You see, the body has a complex mechanical and enzyme-dependent digestion system. Some of us stick to a healthy diet and follow the "good diet rules”, but we don’t address our nutrition deficiencies and can’t achieve our goals. We might be eating the protein we need every day but our body can’t break it down.
If this is the case, the nutrients you're eating may end up passing through your intestinal lining undigested, which could lead to potential problems later on. The solution isn’t to increase protein intake -- you have to improve your body’s ability to digest and absorb these proteins.
Stomach Acid and Digestive Enzymes
In order for the body to properly digest and absorb proteins, the gut must have enough stomach acid (hydrochloric acid) and digestive enzymes (specifically protease and peptidase) present. With low amounts of stomach acid, there aren't enough digestive enzymes to fully break down protein. Some symptoms caused by this are:
- Gas and bloating immediately after eating a high-protein meal
- Thinning hair
- Brittle nails
- Irregular blood sugar
- Impaired immunity
- Slow wound healing
For most of us, low amounts of stomach acid and digestive enzymes are lifestyle related (although some have a genetic predisposition). When affected by certain stressors, gut barrier function can be altered and the likelihood protein digestion issues increases. Some stressors include:
- Significant amounts of resistance training
- Food allergy and sensitivity
- Drugs that inhibit stomach acid
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory usage
- Alcohol abuse
When left unchecked, an altered gut lining and gut function can lead to even greater problems later on. Research even links altered gut function to auto-immune issues.
Prebiotics and Probiotics To the Rescue!
As a Registered Dietitian working in wellness, prevention and food service, I’ve seen my share of patients who suffer from disordered gut barrier function. Good news is, I’ve helped them recover from these issues with prebiotics and probiotics.
Probiotics are the active bacteria in the gut that come in many different strains. Prebiotics are the “food” that feed the probiotics so they can work hard to repopulate the gut with good bacteria.
When used together, prebiotics and probiotics can lower inflammation in the gut and increase the production of bacteria (which is essential for the health of cells that line the gut). Lower gut inflammation and a healthier intestinal barrier increase the number of digestive enzymes necessary for proper digestion and protein absorption. When we have the necessary amount of digestive enzymes and stomach acid, the body has a better response to the proteins it consumes and is able to break down the nutrients. There are two types of prebiotics: Inulin FOS (Fructooligosaccharides), which is found in Yacon syrup, and resistant starch.
While most prebiotics found in foods come from vegetables and fruits, some come from resistant starches (RS). Resistant starch “resists” normal digestive processes in the body. It bypasses digestion in the stomach and small intestine and makes its way to the large intestine. Once it reaches the large intestine, bacteria attach to the starch and digests (or ferments) and the production of short chain fatty acids (like butyrate) increase.
There are 4 types of resistant starches:
- Grains, seeds and legumes
- Potatoes, unripe bananas and plantains (Cooking these foods breaks down its resistant starch which makes it more digestible and therefore no longer a resistant starch)
- Cooked and cooled versions of 1 and 2, and soaked/sprouted legumes
- Synthetic forms of resistant starch, which are generally added to baked products like bread and crackers. (This is not a recommended source of beneficial prebiotics. There is research looking into the potential benefits of synthetic forms of resistant starch, but it’s still too early to tell if they work to improve bacterial populations and overall health.)
Here are the best ways to incorporate prebiotics and probiotics into your daily diet:
- Overnight oats eaten cold
- Cooked and then cooled potatoes
- Lots of fruits and vegetables
- Cold rice
- Greek yogurt
- And my favorite snack ... Rowdy Bars!
Make sure to switch up your diet with different types of probiotics and prebiotics. The different bacterial strains in our body need a variety that includes resistant starches and inulin (found in Rowdy Bars). This will help keep your gut bugs happy and working hard!