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Good & Bad Effects of Bacteria

By Jeffrey Traister ; Updated August 14, 2017

The image of decaying food or foul odor from bacteria eating away your left over meal or food left in your refrigerator too long can make you lose your appetite. Yet not all bacteria are bad. In fact, certain strains of bacteria are essential for your health or may improve the nutritional quality of foods. Consult your doctor or nutritionist to determine the benefits and risks of bacteria in your diet.


Probiotics are bacteria that may help you digest your foods and protect your body from harmful bacteria that can multiply in your intestinal tract. Probiotics are found in yogurt, kefir, acidophilus milk and fermented foods such as miso and tempeh. Manufacturers add the bacteria, or live cultures -- such as lactobacillus or bifidum -- into food to increase its nutritional value. Probiotics may help reduce symptoms from irritable bowel syndrome and intestinal infections.


Prebiotics are nondigestible ingredients in foods that may benefit your health by selectively stimulating the growth and activity of one or more types of bacteria in your colon, according to research by scientists at Abbott Laboratories and published in the "Journal of Renal Nutrition" in 2002. Honey, bananas, leeks, wheat, onions and garlic are foods that naturally contain a prebiotic called fructo-oligosaccharide, which can ferment in your large intestine and stimulate the growth of bifidobacteria. The health benefits of bifidobacteria include lowering your blood levels of cholesterol and fat, production of vitamins and digestive enzymes, enhancing intestinal absorption of calcium from foods, inhibition of growth of harmful bacteria, increasing the weight of fecal matter and shortening duration of bowel movements.


Salmonella is a common pathological bacteria that contaminates food and causes illness. Research published in "Epidemiology and Infection" in 2002 reports that salmonella food poisoning is associated with the handling of free-range eggs and consumption of raw eggs. Handling frozen whole chicken may also increase your risk of salmonella poisoning. Consuming foods with salmonella increases your risk of hospitalization, particularly if the infection is resistant to antibiotics, according to research by scientists at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada and published in the "Journal of Infectious Diseases" in 2004.

E. coli

Food contaminated with E. coli may increase your risk of gastrointestinal illness. Research published in "Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Infectious Diseases" in 2010 found that enteroaggregative Escherichia coli are an emerging pathological bacteria that contaminate food and cause diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome. This contamination is becoming common in developing countries.

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