NUTRITION

Probiotics and Prebiotics 101

What probiotics and prebiotics are and why they’re beneficial to our health.

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By Aimée Suen, NTP

Probiotics and prebiotics are two things that support our health in variety of different ways. You’ve seen them used as buzzwords in ads and on products, but what exactly are they? What do they do? Here’s a breakdown of what probiotics and prebiotics are, how they could help you, and how you could add them into your diet.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that support your digestive system by absorbing nutrients and fighting off infection. Trillions live in your digestive tract and are referred to as the gut microbiome and all have different jobs, some of which scientists are still discovering. The most common groups are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. There are multiple strains and species in each group.

The Benefits of Probiotics

As the microbiome is studied and more things are discovered about the different strains, there are benefits to having a thriving gut microbiome.

Balancing gut flora: Like with most things, in your body, it’s important to maintain a balance. Your gut always has a mix of healthful and sometimes harmful bacteria. The harmful bacteria only becomes harmful when the scales tip and they outnumber the good. When that happens, it can set the stage for a variety of health issues. By adding in probiotics to your diet, with food or with supplementation, you can help adjust the balance back to normal.

Supports Immunity: When your gut is healthy, your immune system can be healthier too! 70-80% of your immunity is in your digestive lining, so by helping keep the gut flora balanced, you can keep the lining healthier. Then your body can be more equipped to naturally fight off disease. Some studies have suggested that probiotics can help the health of your digestive lining and more studies need to be done to show exactly how.

Can Help Digestive Issues: A balanced gut microbiome can help overall digestive health and digestive issues. Supporting a helpful balance of probiotics could also help with ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, and several forms of diarrhea (acute, traveler’s and antibiotic related.)

Inflammation: High stress can cause inflammation and reduce the amount of bacteria in your gut and disrupt the bacterial balance. In addition to working on reducing your stress, adding in more probiotics to your diet can help restore your gut balance.

Where to Get Probiotics

You can supplement with probiotics. Each company has their own mix of the common strains of bacteria. Talk with your nutrition or medical professional to see what strains would be best for you, as well as the dosage. This especially applies if you’ve got any existing digestive issues you’re working through, like candida or SIBO.

You can also get probiotics through fermented foods like kombucha, yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and more.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are a resistant starch that acts as food for probiotics and bacteria in your gut. Your stomach doesn’t digest them and allows them to get to your intestines for the bacteria to feed on them. By adding prebiotics to your diet, you can help support the probiotics in your microbiome, as well as feed new ones you’re adding in as well.

The Benefits of Prebiotics

Prebiotics have similar benefits to probiotics, as well as being great fuel for probiotics. In addition, prebiotics are high in fiber, which helps with fullness and satiety.

Where to Get Prebiotics

You can get prebiotics easily from foods. Here’s a list of foods that are high in prebiotics:

Chicory root

Jerusalem artichoke (also referred to as a sunchoke)

Dandelion greens

Raw garlic

Raw or cooked Onions

Raw Asparagus

Green-tipped Bananas

Jicama

Flaxseeds

Seaweed

Because probiotics feed off of prebiotics, it could be helpful to add both to your diet, especially if you’re adding both of them in the form of food. You can talk with your nutrition or medical professional for personalized recommendations on your own body.

When you do add them to your diet, pay attention to how your body reacts to them. If you’re getting probiotics and probiotics in food form, switch up what foods you’re eating to get the most nutrient variety from them.

Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on InstagramTwitter and Pinterest.

Main Photo Credit: Deemwave/shutterstock.com; Second Photo Credit: Evgeniya L/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: DONOT6_STUDIO/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: StockphotoVideo/shutterstock.com