Probiotics: Why They are Particularly Essential if You are a Vegan
In recent years, the popularity of veganism has surged, driven by concerns for animal welfare, environmental sustainability, and health benefits. While adopting a plant-based lifestyle and clean eating brings numerous advantages, it also requires careful attention to nutrient intake, particularly when it comes to essential vitamins and minerals. Among the key players in maintaining optimal health for vegans are probiotics. These beneficial bacteria not only contribute to overall gut health but are particularly essential for those who have embraced a vegan lifestyle.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that can have beneficial effects on your health when consumed in adequate amounts. They are often called "good" or "friendly" bacteria because they help balance the gut microbiota and prevent harmful bacteria from colonising the digestive tract. Probiotics can be found in some fermented foods, such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut and miso, or dietary supplements. Probiotics may help with various health conditions, such as diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome, eczema, allergies and urinary tract infections. However, for a variety of reasons, those who are on a vegan diet will often find it difficult to maintain a healthy balance of probiotics in their body and may need to do more to get an adequate intake.
Vegans, You Could Be Missing Out On Bacteria
Vegans are of course those who avoid eating any animal products, such as meat, eggs, dairy, and honey. They may have ethical, environmental, or health reasons for their choice, but they may also be missing out on some important benefits of having a diverse and balanced gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is the collection of bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms that live in our digestive tract and help us digest food, produce vitamins, regulate our immune system, and protect us from harmful pathogens. Some studies have shown that vegans have less beneficial gut bacteria than omnivores or vegetarians, which may affect their health in various ways.
One possible reason why vegans have less beneficial gut bacteria is that they consume fewer prebiotics and probiotics than other groups. Prebiotics are dietary fibres that feed the good bacteria in our gut, while probiotics are live bacteria that we ingest from fermented foods or supplements. Both prebiotics and probiotics can help increase the diversity and abundance of beneficial gut bacteria, which can improve our digestion, immunity, mood, and metabolism. However, vegans may have a lower intake of prebiotics and probiotics because they avoid some of the richest sources of these nutrients, such as yoghurt, cheese, and kefir.
More Antinutrients Equal Less Nutrition For You
Another possible reason why vegans have less beneficial gut bacteria is that they have a higher intake of antinutrients than other groups. Antinutrients are compounds that interfere with the absorption or utilization of nutrients in our body. They are found in many plant foods, such as grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and vegetables. Some examples of antinutrients are phytates, lectins, oxalates, tannins, and saponins. Antinutrients can affect the gut microbiome by reducing the availability of minerals, proteins, and enzymes that the good bacteria need to thrive. They can also damage the intestinal lining and cause inflammation, which can disrupt the balance of the gut microbiome and increase the risk of infections and diseases.
Therefore, vegans may have less beneficial gut bacteria than other groups because they consume fewer prebiotics and probiotics and more antinutrients than omnivores or vegetarians. This may have negative consequences for their health and well-being. However, vegans can still improve their gut microbiome by choosing more prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods from plant sources, such as bananas, garlic, onion, leek, asparagus, artichoke, chicory root, oats, barley, tempeh, natto, soy yoghurt, kombucha, and apple cider vinegar. They can also reduce their intake of antinutrients by soaking, sprouting, fermenting, or cooking their plant foods before eating them. By doing so, they can enjoy the benefits of a vegan diet without compromising their gut health.
Probiotics Are Your Good Friends in Every Way
An adequate intake of probiotics can help vegans improve their health in many ways, such as with digestion, immunity, mood, and overall wellness. Here are some of the ways in which probiotics can benefit the health of vegans:
One of the things probiotics do is break down plant fibre, which is the tough part of plants that you can't digest by yourself. Plant fibre is made of long chains of sugar molecules called polysaccharides. Probiotics have special digestive enzymes that can cut these chains into smaller pieces that your body can use for energy or other purposes. By breaking down plant fibre, probiotics also produce short-chain fatty acids, which have many health benefits for your gut and immune system.
Probiotics can help boost the immune system by stimulating the production of antibodies and fighting off harmful pathogens. They can also modulate the inflammatory response and reduce the risk of allergies, infections, and autoimmune diseases. Probiotics improve your immunity by:
- Increasing the production of antibodies and other disease-fighting cells that can combat harmful pathogens.
- Influencing the activity of immune cells, regulating inflammation, barrier function, and cell-to-cell signalling.
- Secreting protective substances that prevent pathogens from taking hold and creating major diseases.
- Crowding out harmful bacteria in the gut and creating a physical barrier against them.
- Improving digestion and absorption of food and nutrients, which are essential for immune health.
Help Produce Vital Vitamins
One of the roles of probiotics is to produce vitamins, especially vitamin K and some of the B vitamins, such as biotin, cobalamin, folate, nicotinic acid, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and thiamine. Probiotics produce vitamins by fermenting complex carbohydrates and fibres that are otherwise indigestible by the human body. This process releases nutrients that can be used by probiotics to synthesise vitamins. By enhancing nutrient availability, probiotics support the synthesis of essential vitamins in the gut.
Improve Mental Health
Probiotics can do more than just help your gut. They can also improve your mental health in many ways. For example, some studies show that probiotics can boost your mood, reduce anxiety and depression, and enhance your cognitive function. Probiotics work by affecting the gut-brain axis, which is the connection between your digestive system and your brain. They can also balance your hormones, strengthen your immune system, and lower inflammation in your body. So next time you feel down or stressed, increasing your intake of probiotics might just make you feel better!
Embracing a vegan lifestyle offers numerous health benefits, and ensuring a well-balanced gut microbiota through the consumption of probiotics is a key aspect of maintaining overall health. By focusing on probiotic-rich foods and organic supplements, vegans can optimise nutrient absorption, support their immune system, and promote digestive well-being. Probiotics are not just a trend; they are an essential component of a holistic approach to vegan nutrition and health.
To get the most benefits from probiotics, vegans should choose a high-quality organic supplement that contains a variety of strains and a high number of colony-forming units (CFUs). They should also store the supplement according to the instructions and take it regularly. Additionally, they should eat more plant-based prebiotic foods to feed the probiotics and supplement their gut health. By adopting these practices, vegans can foster a harmonious relationship between their plant-based diet and the beneficial bacteria in their digestive system. Remember, the journey to optimal well-being involves a holistic approach, and prioritising gut health through probiotics and prebiotics is a pivotal step in ensuring that a vegan lifestyle is not only compassionate to animals and the planet but also supportive of one's health and vitality.