Probiotics, or in yogurt-speak, live active cultures, are the “good” gut bacteria that have a range of effects on the human body. Health benefits of probiotics range from boosting the immune system to helping to prevent obesity and diabetes.
Chances are, you’re already eating foods with probiotics in one form or another. Probiotics have been eaten for centuries in fermented foods around the world, from yogurt to sauerkraut to kimchee. Recent research on probiotics has shown an incredible range of positive effects. The grocery store has responded, Food labels play up the health benefits of probiotics, they are lauded in yogurt commercials and food manufacturers include them in many everyday foods. They are also available in capsule form.
Everyone has trillions of bacteria in their digestive tract, on their skin and in other locations around the body. Different bacteria have different effects. Some can make us sick while others can fight off "bad" bacteria to keep us healthy. Some “good” bacteria are also able to break down difficult-to-digest foods and produce vitamins for us.
For someone who has chronic digestive issues, there may be health benefits to probiotics. Probiotics have been effective in treating diarrhea in infants as well as adults, and doctors often prescribe them for this reason. Hospitals often include yogurt on the trays of patients with stomach issues.
For people who have recently taken a course of antibiotics, which wipe out both bad bacteria and the good bacteria, probiotics can help repopulate healthy bacteria populations in the gut. These good bacteria then go on to boost the immune system, reducing the need for antibiotics in the future.
Studies have shown that obese people and lean people have differing gut bacteria populations. When bacteria from obese and lean people are put into mice, the “fat” bacteria mice are regularly heavier than those that received bacteria from lean people, even with the same amounts of food eaten.
New research even shows that probiotics have a positive effect on the brain and mental health. One study found that probiotics can relieve anxiety and stress while another showed that two strains of probiotics, L. helveticus and B. Longum, reduced depression and anger while improving problem-solving ability. More research is needed to confirm these results, but it adds more evidence to the question, should I be taking probiotics?
Probiotics can also help lactose-intolerant people by breaking down the lactose in milk products and making them easier to digest. While still being investigated, there are many diverse health benefits of probiotics.
What Foods Should You Eat to Get Probiotics?
Now that we’ve established some of the health benefits of probiotics, we have to ask, what are the best sources of probiotics? Probiotics can be found in pill form, which delivers several millions of live, active bacteria. Probiotic food sources, however, are usually packed with nutrients and those healthy bacteria, offering more bang for your buck. Most food sources of probiotics, like fermented dairy and vegetables, are great sources of minerals, vitamins and macronutrients, as well.
So when you next ask yourself, "do I need to take probiotics?” ask yourself another question: “What’s in my refrigerator?” If you have a good supply of things like yogurt, keffir, hard cheese, kimchee and sauerkraut, you’re probably on the right track to enjoying the health benefits of probiotics.
Claire St. John, MPH, RDN
Ridaura VK, Faith JJ, Rey FE, Cheng J, Duncan AE, et al. Cultured gut microbiota from twins discordant for obesity modulate adiposity and metabolic phenotypes in mice. Science 341: 1241214 (2013)
For additional research and resources, see health benefits of probiotics.
Parents often feel pressure to feed our kids the “right” foods and to control what they eat. As the mother of three daughters, I’ve had my share of picky eaters, power struggles and conflicting advice on how and what to feed them. Friends said one thing, I would read another, and the pediatrician would say something else about how to feed young children. To make matters worse, as a dietitian I knew EXACTLY what nutrients they were lacking when they wouldn’t eat something served at dinner!
I learned that what kids put in their mouths is one of the FEW things they can—and will—control. This sets up a conflict between parents and children which can lead to power struggles and eventually result in eating disorders or weight problems (either too high or too low) later in life. Having seen some college friends struggle with disordered eating, I wanted to protect my own children from this result.
Thankfully, there is a way to avoid these eating conflicts through a strategy called Responsive Feeding (RF). RF helps parents teach their kids positive and healthy eating habits from an early age, avoid power struggles, and most importantly, teaches kids how to have a healthy relationship with food and weight.
At a session recently held at the Food and Nutrition Conference and Exhibit (FNCE) in Atlanta, experts in nutrition and child feeding outlined three important goals for Responsive Feeding:
Responsive feeding is based on Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility (DOR) concept. If used consistently, these principles will help your child develop long-term healthy eating habits and allow for culture, enjoyment, taste, creativity and other factors involved in eating. It took me a while, but I’m happy to report all of my daughters now have adopted healthy eating habits, show no signs of eating disorders and have no serious weight issues! It’s definitely worth the investment … and in fact, this method is far easier than the typical conflict at the dinner table when your kids don’t eat exactly what you want.
There are a host of resources that parents can access online and use right away to learn more about raising healthy kids. These online resources include how-to tips and even recorded presentations on how to raise a healthy eater, provide healthy meals and snacks and how to be a positive role model designed with parents in mind.
Lori Hoolihan, Ph.D., R.D.N.
A week ago I had the privilege of presenting a poster at the 88th Annual American School Health Association (ASHA) conference in beautiful Portland, Oregon. My topic, “Creating a Culture of Wellness through Common Core – Strategies and Promising Practices,” focused on how certain shifts related to English Language Arts/Literacy open the door for teaching nutrition lesson plans in the classroom.
After inserting the last push pin, I was delighted to hear the first comment … “That’s exactly what I’ve been trying to say”. My fellow presenters from Arizona Department of Education enthusiastically expressed how our poster reflected their viewpoint about health education, nutrition lesson plans and Common Core State Standards. In the next hour I engaged in multiple face-to-face discussions with nurses, wellness coordinators, health educators, physicians and registered dietitians.
The focus of our poster is best explained by Program Specialist Ray Pietersen from the Elk Grove Unified School District. “Teaching the standards and skills of Common Core opens the door for using curriculum, such as nutrition education curriculum, that supports the use of expository text and helps students build skills that they are expected to master under Common Core."
Particular focus was given to how the subject of nutrition naturally aligns to the key shifts of the Common Core State Standards English Language Arts/Literacy:
Dairy Council of California's classroom nutrition lesson plans are aligned to these three key shifts and provide teachers with a real-life, engaging topic, food, as a way for students to practice and reinforce the Common Core standards.
The take-away message is that the opportunity is NOW for health and education to work in tandem through Common Core State Standards. But recognizing this opportunity is only the first step. Dairy Council of CA is taking the next critical step - providing teacher training through professional development to show how nutrition education naturally aligns to Common Core. Teachers don’t have time to search and align nutrition lesson plans – health educators must make the Common Core shift with teachers to successfully cultivate a culture of wellness in schools.
To learn more or schedule a teacher training for your staff or colleagues, contact the Community Nutrition Adviser nearest you.
Valerie Fung-A-Ling, Community Nutrition Adviser
I am fortunate enough this year to attend the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo (affectionately known as FNCE) this year that will be held in Atlanta starting tomorrow. If you are a registered dietitian nutritionist and planning to attend, then you are probably doing the same thing as I am, packing and planning the sessions you want to hear. (BTW, if you haven't downloaded the conference app - do it! It is a fabulous tool for planning and tracking your conference activities!)
This year we have the good fortune to be sponsoring a session titled, New Research on Responsive Feeding in Early Childhood: Healthy Eating and Healthy Weight. Mark this session to attend (Tuesday morning October 21 at 8:00 am). The speakers are Elizabeth Jackson and Mary Mullen, both dietitians in clinical practice. They have planned a wonderful blend of case studies from their own practice and the latest research. As a former pediatric dietitian, I can verify that these RDNs have information that will be very practical for dietitians that work with children (or are mothers of young children!)
Here is a bit of a sneak preview:
With the focus on obesity prevention some parents are getting into power struggles that are creating significant feeding problems. Parents often feel pressure to feed kids the “right” foods, but not too much … and to control what they eat. As the mother I know all about having picky eaters since my children were once very picky! Thankfully, there is a way to successfully navigate through this challenge through a strategy called Responsive Feeding (RF). RF helps parents teach their kids positive and healthy eating habits from an early age, avoid power struggles, and most importantly, teaches kids how to have a healthy relationship with food and weight.
At this session our speakers will outline the three important goals for Responsive Feeding:
If used consistently, these principles will help children develop long-term healthy eating habits and allow for culture, enjoyment, taste, creativity and other factors involved in eating. Research confirms this method is far easier than the typical conflict at the dinner table when your kids don’t eat what you want them to.
There are a host of resources that parents can access online and use right away to learn more about this important topic. These online resources include how-to tips and even pre-recorded presentations on how to raise a healthy eater, provide healthy meals and snacks and how to be a positive role model designed with parents in mind.
Maureen Bligh, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Nutrition lesson plans teach life skills- how to eat healthy from all five food groups. Nutrition lesson plans also provide real life context for other learning skills like math and language arts. In fact, Dairy Council of California's k-12 nutrition lesson plans feature fun worksheets and activities that make nutrition engaging. (You can order free lesson plans, here). However, some teachers go the extra mile to put nutrition lesson plans into action through Farm to School programs and activities. If you need more ideas, be sure to check out 9 Ways to Celebrate Farm to School in the Classroom.
From sprouting seeds on the window sill to dedicated garden areas, growing fruits and vegetables at school can inspire math, science, language arts and nutrition lesson plans. Teachers can incorporate school gardens into their nutrition lesson plans by asking elementary students to use the food picture cards to identify which food group the plants belong to, or encourage older students to plan or prepare balanced meals and snacks with the harvested ingredients. les
Students who experience the growing cycle first hand via school gardens will have a greater appreciation for nature and farmers. Teachers can deepen the engagement by discussing how nutrients in the soil become vitamins necessary for healthy growth and development.
The Mobile Dairy Classroom assembly program offers students and teachers a chance to augment their classroom nutrition lessons by learning more about the dairy industry and how milk goes from cow to the cafeteria. After the presentation, enhance your nutrition lesson plans by asking students to sort through the food picture cards to identify all the foods that are made with milk. Extend the learning beyond milk and dairy foods by asking students to identify the farm sources of other favorite, healthy food group foods.
Farm to school programs in the cafeteria provide another possible connection for classroom nutrition lessons. Have students map the origins of certain local produce items available in school meals. Discuss what food products are produced close to the school district or county and ask the school foodservice staff whether those products are locally sourced. Determine whether or not foods from all the food groups could be sourced locally for balanced school meals. Ask students which local foods taste the best or compare fresh produce to frozen or canned foods. Have students write about their experiences and impressions.
Using farm-to-school to enhance classroom nutrition lesson plans improves students' food literacy. If you have a school garden, have recently been visited by Mobile Dairy Classroom or have an active farm to school cafeteria connection, be sure to order nutrition lesson plans from Dairy Council of California.If you're still looking for activity ideas or connections, read 9 Ways to Celebrate Farm to School in the Classroom.
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