Probiotics and prebiotics are hot health buzzwords when it comes to improving your gut. And why shouldn’t they be? New research continues to emerge daily. Both provide numerous health benefits when it comes to gut health. However, it is a challenge to sift through information on the internet. A vast number of websites are simply trying to sell you a supplement. They sell without providing information on getting pro and prebiotics through their natural source – food!
What are Prebiotics and Probiotics?
Probiotics are alive. They are active bacteria living in our digestive system. Bacteria historically had a negative reputation. But, not all bacteria is harmful! Scientists have found we need bacteria to survive. And when it comes to the gut, we need a lot of it – up to 4 pounds per person!
Prebiotics are plant-based sugars. They act as food for our probiotics. Prebiotics nourish and promote the growth of probiotics in the gastrointestinal tract. And they work to help protect the digestive system.
Good bacteria is our best friend when it comes to gut function. They protect us against pathogens. Bacteria synthesize vitamins and digest foods. They also keep our immune system healthy. The bacteria we think is “bad” actually coexists nicely with the good bacteria.
The imbalance of good and bad bacteria is called dysbiosis. This imbalance can cause irritable bowel disorder, inflammatory skin diseases, autoimmune arthritis, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and atherosclerosis.
What are Probiotic and Prebiotic Foods?
Many foods that are considered probiotics are fermented. But, not all fermented foods are probiotics. And not all probiotics are fermented foods. For example, bread, beer, wine, and distilled alcoholic beverages are made by fermentation, but the live bacteria are removed by filters or heat. To be a probiotic food, the bacteria must be alive! Check out the article The 6 Surprising Health Benefits of Eating Fermented Foods.
Probiotic foods work to increase the beneficial gut bacteria. This helps with digestion, immune function, and relief of digestive problems. Probiotics are in foods like cultured dairy products such as yogurt kefir, miso, and tempeh. They are also found in fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, olives, pickles, and kimchi. However, fermented vegetables are only a true probiotic food if they are fermented in salt, not vinegar. To spot the difference, look for the words “naturally fermented” on the label. There will also be bubbles in the liquid when you open the jar. Probiotics will typically be in the refrigerated section of the grocery store.
Most prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber. However, only soluble fiber is a prebiotic. Soluble fiber is “soluble” in water and forms a gel-like substance in your digestive tract. The fiber cannot digest without the help of probiotics, which work to break it down.
You can find prebiotics in foods such as onions, garlic, bananas, asparagus, leeks, avocado, honey, dandelion greens, and legumes.
Not currently eating many prebiotic foods? Some people have a hard time digesting prebiotic foods. Start by eating small amounts as you allow the gut to adapt. It also helps to cook prebiotics if you continue to have issues.
What about Supplements?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate the food we eat. Our food goes through an extensive evaluation process. The FDA does not regulate supplements. This means that quality and content are unknown.
Therefore, one probiotic supplement may be very different from another probiotic supplement. Some supplements have 100 million different types of bacteria in each serving. Others have 1.8 trillion!
There is a strong chance the exact information on a supplement is not correct. There may also be quality issues. However, while there is a lack of research on probiotic supplements, they are considered generally safe. But always talk with your doctor before taking any supplements.