There is no magic bullet for gut health.
I just received an email from a PR person asking if I wanted samples of a chocolate peanut butter crunch bar that was supposed to be good for gut health. She explained these bars as “a healthy on-the-go snack that is guaranteed to satisfy your sweet tooth.” I understand what the founders of this company are trying to do: they’re trying to have their cake and eat it, too. Kudos to anyone bringing greater awareness to the importance gut health, I guess, but saying it can be done with a junk-food bar is undermining the truth about how we can actually do better by our bodies. The thing is, there’s no magic bullet for gut health. A highly-processed, packaged food is not going to be the thing that offers you both good bacteria (probiotics) and the dietary fiber that that good bacteria needs to thrive (prebiotics).
Now that mainstream media and consumers are becoming more aware of gut health, it’s more important than ever to be a critical thinker in the grocery store. If it sounds too good to be true (e.g. a candy bar that’s good for your gut) then it probably is!
Prebiotics come from fiber that the good microbes in your gut need to live, but that humans can’t digest on their own. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship! The good news is that you don’t need to buy an expensive, unhealthy bar to get that benefit. Instead, you can buy onions, garlic, bananas, asparagus, sunchokes, beans, oats, and many more inexpensive foods. The best way to feed the good bacteria in your gut is to eat diverse sources of fiber from vegetables and other plants.
Processed food that claims to offer probiotics is junk. Not only are the good bacteria unlikely to even be alive if the food is shelf stable, processed food is processed food, whether there are good bacteria mixed in or not. Be skeptical of something that says it tastes like a candy bar, but also is good for your gut.
If you want to improve your gut health or simply maintain your health, it’s simple: eat a variety of vegetables every day, reduce added sugar as much as you can, and eat meat very occasionally. (And when you do eat animal protein, make sure it is from well-raised, happy meat, chicken, or fish). If you want, buy a refrigerated probiotic and take it with a meal rich in vegetables and other plant-based foods like beans, seeds, and nuts. But, think of this as a booster, since a probiotic on its own will not heal your gut if you’re not also feeding it the food that good bacteria need to survive. Eating well is required for a healthy gut, and thankfully its as simple as stocking up on fresh produce. And, when you’re at the store, skip the aisle with the “magic bullet” bars.