Power up your probiotics with omega-3s

By now, most of us know that probiotics aid in the production of beneficial bacteria in the gut. So you’ve probably already added yogurt and fermented foods to your diet, but now it’s time to think about foods like fish, seeds, and avocados.

Why? They’re high in omega-3 fatty acids, the healthy kind of fat. And new evidence from clinical trials shows that combining omega-3 fatty acids with probiotics may be even more beneficial to overall gut health.

How it works

Your gut is filled with billions of bacteria. Controlling the diversity of this bacteria has been linked to minimizing chronic inflammation — a condition that can be the start of various diseases like obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and neurodegeneration.

One study published in the journal Nutrients focused on two strains of probiotics, lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, which are responsible for preventing gut permeability, making it harder for bacteria to enter the bloodstream. The researchers found that when omega-3s were combined with these probiotic strains, the omega-3s acted as nutrition, or prebiotics, for the probiotic strains and enhanced their effectiveness. So omega-3s feed the good bacteria that you need to stay healthy and fight bad bacteria.

Because the combination of these three supplements had a positive response in microbiota diversity, it means they most likely can help boost the immune system and reduce low-grade inflammation.

Probiotic and omega-3 sources

Our bodies don’t produce omega-3 fatty acids, so the only way to get them is from foods or supplements. General recommendations are to get 2 to 3 grams of essential fatty acids each day.

Good sources of omega-3s include:

  • Salmon - 1.5 grams per 3.5 ounces
  • Fresh tuna - 2.6 grams per 3.5 ounces
  • Mackerel - 2.6 grams per 3.5 ounces
  • Walnuts - 2.5 grams per 1 ounce
  • Flaxseed - 2.4 grams per 1 tablespoon
  • Chia seeds - 5 grams per 1 ounce

Eating fermented foods a few times a week will give you the probiotic diversity that supports a healthy gut. Good sources include:

  • Yogurt - usually contains at least a couple lactobacillus strains
  • Kefir - typically contains both bifidobacterium and lactobacillus strains
  • Sauerkraut - contains a few lactobacillus strains

The amount of probiotics found in each will vary greatly but choosing higher quality brands like Siggi’s, Chobani, Fage, Stonyfield, Lifeway Kefir, Maple Hill, and Gold Mine Sauerkraut will typically have more per serving than more generic brands.

Supplementation is also a viable option, especially if you can’t get the above-mentioned foods in for any particular reason. Omega-3 supplements like Onnit’s Krill Oil and Joint Oil can have the same anti-inflammatory effects. And Onnit’s Total Gut Health has both the probiotic strains that were researched, along with a beneficial yeast, digestive enzymes, additional prebiotics, and betaine hydrochloride that all help create a favorable environment for digestion and absorption of food and nutrients.

Don’t forget the fiber

Fiber plays an important role in our overall health, particularly when it comes to improving gut health. There are two types of fiber: soluble and insoluble. The beneficial bacteria in your gut loves to digest soluble plant fibers, such as those found in:

  • Oats - ½ cup has 4 grams fiber
  • Lentils - ½ cup has 8 grams fiber
  • Beans - ½ cup has 7.5 grams fiber
  • Peas - ½ cup has 3 grams fiber
  • Other legumes

The bacteria then turns that fiber into organic compounds like butyrate. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid and provides fuel for the cells of our gut lining. This in turn has a positive impact to support our overall immune system.

Most Americans aren’t getting nearly enough fiber in their day, averaging only about 15 grams. Typical recommendations suggest 25 to 30 grams per day, but 35 grams or more is a better goal. If you’re making it a point to increase your fiber intake, make sure you are meeting your daily hydration needs of ½ to 1 ounce per pound of body weight. This will help the efficiency of your entire digestive system.

Want more ways to improve your gut health? Learn more about why gut health matters.

About the Author

Shannon Ehrhardt

Shannon Ehrhardt, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., C.S.C.S., is a senior performance dietitian at EXOS and has worked in sports performance for over 10 years. With a master's degree in exercise physiology and nutrition, she works with EXOS' nutrition partner Onnit, supporting the performance goals of athletes and working alongside the product development team.

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