Both probiotics and prebiotics seem to be a hot topic in health today. Just peruse the aisles of any grocery and health food store, and you’ll probably find several products extolling their virtue. But many people don’t understand what probiotics and prebiotics are, what makes them different, and most importantly, how they work together. So, let’s start there.
What are probiotics and prebiotics?
Your gut is made of billions and billions of bacteria. These bacteria, collectively referred to as the gut flora are actually beneficial bacteria. They also contribute to your microbiome by supporting our immune system, determining how we digest our food, and they also have a hand in shaping our weight. These bacteria are divided into two groups: probiotics and prebiotics.
Probiotics are live bacteria found in certain foods or supplements. They can provide numerous health benefits. Prebiotics, on the other hand, come from types of carbs (mostly fiber) that humans can’t digest. The beneficial bacteria in your gut eat this fiber.
Healthy bacteria, healthy gut, healthy life.
Not surprisingly, what you feed your microbiome has a huge impact on your overall health. The healthier it is, the healthier you are. The key to a healthy microbiome is nourishing a balance among the nearly 1,000 different species of bacteria in your gut. Admittedly this all sounds super gross. But stick with us.
So how do probiotics and prebiotics work together? Think of their relationship like a garden. Probiotics would be the seeds, giving your gut biome the good bacteria it needs. Prebiotics are the fertilizer, giving those bacteria the food they need to thrive and do their job. Like a one-two punch for your gut (but in a good way), prebiotics and probiotics are better when they work together.
Probiotics: their benefits and how to get more of them into your life.
Probiotics might be tiny, but they pack a big, healthy punch. They can benefit overall gut health, help with weight management, and also support the immune system. What probiotics does so well is create a balance in your microbiome that’s so essential for many of the processes your body relies on. It turns out that good bacteria is really good for you. The key to getting the right amount of good bacteria into your life through probiotics or by eating the right kinds of foods. Because probiotics are usually found in fermented foods, give some of these a try:
- Miso Soup
- Kefir (dair or non-dairy)
Remember, if you’re going to eat fermented foods for their probiotic benefits, make sure they are not pasteurized, as this process kills the bacteria.
Prebiotics: their benefits and how to get more of them into your life.
As we discussed earlier, prebiotics are the food that helps nourish the probiotics in your body. Prebiotics are found in the food that we can’t digest. They’re usually found in functional foods or modified foods that provide a benefit that goes beyond general nutrition. But because prebiotics aren’t digested in the small intestine (due the lack of enzymes we need to do the job), it brings them into direct contact with our gut bacteria. The gut bacteria, in turn, get a delicious all-you-can-eat lunch, and are able to do their thing – making our microbiome run like a well oiled machine. In other words, simply pigging out on kombucha and yogurt won’t help. You need to feed those probiotics if you want a healthier digestive system.
Here are some foods that can add a prebiotic punch to your diet:
- Chicory Root
- Dandelion Greens
- Jerusalem Artichoke
What to look for.
Can you take probiotics and prebiotics at the same time? You bet. You should. In fact, many foods contain both probiotics and prebiotics.
But because a lot of the foods that contain both aren’t always readily available, many people choose supplements to, well, supplement their diets. These are pills or liquids that contain live beneficial bacteria. If you decide to go this route, remember: you get what you pay for. Some probiotic and prebiotic supplements don’t contain the right kind of bacteria. Others aren’t designed to make it past your stomach acid so the bacteria can actually make it to your intestines. Lastly, if you decide to take a supplement, make sure you contact your healthcare professional first.
While probiotics and prebiotics are very different, their true magic is found in the way they both work synergistically and feed (quite literally) off of each other for better health. Even though we can’t see them, making an effort to achieve the right balance of bacteria in our microbiome goes well beyond a healthier digestive system. It delivers benefits that span the way we think to our immune system. The next time you’re at the grocery store, make sure you put some probiotics and prebiotics into your cart.
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