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Our intestines are heavily populated with a diverse collection of microbes, collectively called microbiota. Most of them are ‘good’ bacteria, they promote good health and are essential for our well being. They prevent infections by boosting our immune system, help digestion by breaking down food, help control body weight and synthesize vitamins, hormones, and chemicals like dopamine, serotinin and GABA which regulate mood. Some of the bacteria are ‘bad’ and produce stuff which is detrimental to our health – they are responsible for several diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, and cancer.

What are good bacteria and bad bacteria?

What are probiotics and prebiotics?

What are emulsifiers and stabilizers?

Why processed food should not be eaten?

What are the food containing good bacteria?

Prebiotics are substances which promote the growth of ‘good’ bacteria already present in our intestines. Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria present in the food we eat.


Emulsifiers and stabilizers are similar substances and widely used in the food industry to stabilize processed food such as bread, baked goods, chocolate, jam, ice-cream, peanut butter, tomato ketchup. They promote ‘bad’ bacteria. Their intake can be minimized by reducing the consumption of processed food. The commonly used agents include:

Lecithins (E322)
Esters of monoglycerides of fatty acids (E472a-f),
Mono and diglycerides of fatty acids (E471)
Ammonium phosphatide (E442)
Sorbitan Tristearate (E492)
Polysorbates (E432, E436)
Polyglycerol esters (E477)

Prebiotics are found in edible but indigestible fibers. They nourish and promote the growth of the ‘good’ bacteria present in the large intestine and this has a profound positive impact on our health including mental health, hypertension, inflammatory bowel disease (such as crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), and improved calcium and magnesium absorption.The big range of prebiotics includes inulin, lactulose, pectin, galactooligosaccharides (GOS),  fructooligosaccharides (FOS). GOS and FOS are often added to infant milk powder. These prebiotics are naturally found in many products such as onion, garlic, artichoke, chicory root, banana, skin of apple, gum arabic (goond), and whole wheat flour.

Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria found live in many foods such as yoghurt, kefir, miso soup, tempeh, sourdough bread, certain soft cheeses like gouda, brie and camembert, and are also available as supplements (as in pills and capsules). When consumed, they add to the population of the ‘good’ bacteria in our intestines. Probiotics help promote good health, improve digestion, improve the absorption of calcium and magnesium, strengthen the immune system and exert a beneficial influence on inflammatory bowel disease.

Food components which promote ‘bad’ bacteria include dietary fructose, artificial sweeteners (saccharine, sucralose-sold as Splenda), carnitine in red meat, and emulsifiers.

Fructose is a constituent of table sugar, and the principal chemical of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). These two sweeteners are widely used in the production of bread, buns, cakes, pastries, soft drinks, biscuits and cookies. Emulsifies are compounds added to many foods to improve their texture, taste and shelf-life. Such foods include bread, buns, sauces, and many packaged food.

Antibiotics too have a devastating effect on the bacteria. Some antibiotics have a more pronounced knockout effect on the good bacteria and some on the bad bacteria.

The best way to ensure a healthy and flourishing population of ‘good’ bacteria is by consuming food rich in prebiotics and probiotics, and by avoiding foods that promote the ‘bad’ bacteria.