You Asked, I Answered

Filed under: General Health, Nutrition

As promised yesterday, today’s post is going to be an epic one. The You Asked, I Answered posts are some of my favorites, and today is going to be a great one. I have three great questions that I think a lot of people wonder about, and I provide some pretty thorough responses. Enjoy!

Q. Hi Brian-

I have a follow-up question to one of your recent postings (you can use this question on your blog if you want); you mentioned that you have ‘a probiotic’ at breakfast.  I know this word, but really don’t understand the term.  When I think of probiotic, I think kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut and/or kimchee.  I’ve also seen the term ‘prebiotic.’  Can you maybe expound on this topic (or if you have addressed this in a previous posting, maybe you can direct me to it).

As always, HUGE THANKS for your time and thoughts:-)

A. First off, thinking of whole food sources of probiotics is a great thing! Probiotics are simply live bacteria/microorganisms that are thought to beneficial to the organism in which they reside. Probiotic literally means “for life.”

These bacteria are part of the fermentation process of the above foods you mentioned, and are one of the main reasons for the health benefits of those foods. These probiotic bacteria seem to provide benefit to their host organism (such as humans) by taking up residence in our GI tract (mainly colon, but some in small intestine) and preventing pathogenic bacteria (such as E. Coli) and toxin producing bacteria (such as clostridia) from growing there.

Beyond just that though, recent research has been finding specific health benefits from specific strains of bacteria. These benefits may include improvements in immune function, anti-cancer benefits, attenuation of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose tolerance, and more. It is important to note that these benefits are not general effects of probiotics, but are attributed to specific individual strains.

Having said that, there is also more new research on the benefits of multiple strains being given together, as different strains populate different areas of the digestive tract. And since we have roughly 400-500 different types of bacteria in our gut, it seems to make sense. This is how I recommend you supplement, with a product that provides a wide range of probiotic bacteria.

One final note on probiotics is that my recommendation is as a general health supplement, if you are attempting to treat a specific symptom or problem/disease, consult with your physician as to the best strain, or if this is even a good idea. In people with severely compromised immune systems or with overly permeable GI tracts, the bacteria can enter the bloodstream and worsen the situation.

Now prebiotics are food components that probiotics feed on. They are indigestible fiber that provide health benefits, due to the probiotic bacteria fermenting them. I do want to make clear that a food can not be a prebiotic, but it can contain prebiotics. Just like a food can’t be a vitamin, but it can contain vitamins.

Oligofructose and inulin are the two main examples of prebiotics, and are found in supplement form, as well as in Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, chicory root, onions, asparagus, bananas, whole wheat and more. It should be noted that inulin can cause gas in a lot of people, as it is highly fermentable.

Prebiotics have been found to increase mineral absorption, improve the immune system, inflammatory bowel disorders, and a few others. These benefits seem to arise from the probiotic bacteria fermenting the prebiotics, which produces more short-chain fatty acids. While I don’t necessarily recommend supplementing with prebiotics, it may be of benefit to people who suffer from inflammatory bowel disorders.

I don’t think there is enough known on the subject yet to give really solid recommendations, other than to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, consume yogurt and other fermented foods, and supplement with probiotics if you wish.

A simple probiotic product is Integrative Therapeutics Pro-Flora Concentrate Probiotic Peals. It contains a nice blend of probiotic strains, as well as a patented delivery system to ensure that they survive the acidic environment of the stomach.

Q. Hey Brian,

I can imagine you are busy as hell like me, but If you had time maybe you could blog about electrolytes? How important is it to get them consistently? What food sources do we get them from? Is an Emergen Cee packet a good source of electrolytes?  Do you think people are generally under hydrated?

A. Electrolytes are electrically charged ions, specifically sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride. It is incredibly important to get adequate electrolytes as they maintain blood pressure, proper heart and muscle function, osmotic pressure, hydration and blood pH. The body regulates these substances through several hormones, as well as the kidneys.

We get electrolytes from a ton of foods. Sodium and chloride we get from table salt (I recommend Redmond Real Salt), as well as being added to tons of things. Potassium we get from many fruits and vegetables including potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, spinach, squash, apricots, as well as yogurt and more. Calcium from dairy products, sesame seeds, spinach, kale, bok choy, and almonds. Magnesium we get from things like spinach, swiss chard, salmon, beans, nuts, potatoes, yogurt and more.

As you can see there are plenty of healthy whole-food sources that provide electrolytes for the body. Fruits and vegetables, grass-fed dairy, nuts and seeds, starchy tubers and other fantastic foods are going to provide you with an abundance of these minerals. While Emergen-C may provide some electrolytes, I would not use it as a source of them. Maybe if you are sick and dehydrated it could be of some use, otherwise I would simply stick with real food.

The hydration status is a tough question to answer. I think the American population as a whole most likely is, as they subsist on processed foods with absolutely enormous amounts of sodium, consume very little potassium and magnesium containing fruits and veggies, and drink mainly coffee, soda and alcohol as their beverages.

However I think the health conscious individual reading this blog consumes far less processed junk, eats lots of fruits and veggies, and drinks plenty of water, tea and some coffee, with a reasonable amount of alcohol. So no I wouldn’t say that these people are dehydrated, but it is important to make sure you are getting adequate fluids.

Q. Hi Brian,

Recently found some absolutely amazing protein bars that taste just like candy. Looking through the ingridents I noticed they have “fractionated palm oil”. Done some googling and found out it’s not the healthiest of oils but I’m unsure if it’s dangerous like hydrogenated or not? Might be worth a blog post if you have time!

A. In all honesty, I had to look this one up, as I was unfamiliar with fractionated palm oil myself!

Palm oil is actually quite a healthy oil. While it contains a significant amount of saturated fat, I think readers of this blog should know my feelings on that by now. Stephan over at Wholehealthsource wrote a great piece all about palm oil, so I suggest you check it out. I will give an abridged version here.

“The oil palm Elaeis guineensis originated in West Africa and remains one of the main dietary fats throughout the region.

To extract the oil, palm fruit are steamed, and the oily flesh is removed and pressed. It’s similar to olive oil in that it is extracted gently from an oil-rich fruit, rather than harshly from an oil-poor seed (e.g., corn or soy oil). The oil that results is deep red and is perhaps the most nutrient-rich fat on the planet. The red color comes from carotenes, but red palm oil also contains a large amount of vitamin E (mostly tocotrienols), vitamin K1, coenzyme Q10 and assorted other fat-soluble constituents. This adds up to a very high concentration of fat-soluble antioxidants.”

Palm oil itself is a healthy fat that provides stability at room temperature for an assortment of items, including some natural peanut butters (such as Skippy Natural). It is approximately 50%  saturated fatty acids, 37% monounsaturated fatty acids, and 13% polyunsaturated fatty acids.

To fractionate the palm oil it is heated and cooled, so that it separates into two fat fractions. An olein fraction and a stearin fraction. The olein fraction contains more monounsaturated fats, while the stearin fraction contains more saturated fats and is more stable at room temperature.

Unfortunately this heating and cooling process will destroy some of those beneficial fat-soluble compounds mentioned above, decreasing the health benefits of this oil. While it certainly is not a trans-fat or anything of that nature, the loss of those elements make it somewhat less desirable.

Overall unrefined palm oil is a wonderfully healthy oil, while fractionated palm oil is probably somewhat neutral, though I wouldn’t seek to add it to my diet.

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Posted on March 25th, 2011 by Brian St. Pierre


  1. Eric Says:

    Great post Brian! Clear, concise, informative on all 3 answers. Keep up the great work.

  2. Stuff You Should Read While Procrastinating Because Knowledge is Power « Health Heralds Says:

    [...] In this post, Brian St. Pierre answers his readers’ questions regarding probiotics, electrolytes, and [...]

  3. Paul Says:

    hey Brian,I am new to your site and I like what I see. Lots of good information! I found out about your stuff through diesel crew and your recent blog posts on their website. Also, some great info.

    Anyways, my question revolves around coffee. I usually go to Tim Hortons everyday in the morning and i was wondering is cream a good thing to add to coffee. Are there healthy fats in it or should it be avoided?

  4. Brian St. Pierre Says:


    A small amount of cream is not a big deal at all. The actual amount is tiny!

    If it was cream from grass-fed cows then it is a somewhat healthful source of fats (like if you get it from Organic Valley). However since you are probably using Tim Horton’s cream from corn and grain-fed cows, it is significantly less healthy. In conclusion just keep the amount reasonable, like 1 serving, and it is not a problem at all.

  5. Paula Says:

    Hi Brian,

    I appreciate your effort and enjoy reading your blog; I always learn something new.

    My daughter is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, & soy. Do you have any suggestions for protein in the morning before school? I’ve had a tough time finding things to feed her before she goes out the door. Also do you know if probiotics come in formulas that are dairy free.

  6. Brian St. Pierre Says:


    Something like hemp or sprouted rice protein powders might be a good option for you. Utilizing things like breakfast burritos with beans as the protein source (and adding vegetables, guacamole, maybe some rice) might also be good options. That seems like an awful lot of actual allergies. Are any of those just sensitivities or intolerances (like lactose intolerance)?

    Yes they do make dairy free probiotics. I don’t know enough about particular companies to make any recommendations but they are certainly out there.

    Hope that helps.


  7. emergen-c review Says:

    You could certainly see your expertise in the work you write. The sector hopes for more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to say how they believe. All the time follow your heart.

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