Probiotics, prebiotics—do you really need both? The answer is unequivocally yes. They work together to promote good digestive health.
Probiotics are healthy gut bacteria, while prebiotics are the fibrous food that feed the bacteria. If you want to boost your health and immunity, make sure that you get both probiotics and prebiotics in your diet.
Here’s the skinny on probiotics and prebiotics, including how to get them in your diet.
Keep your gut bacteria happy and healthy
Your gut bacteria is a line of defense against harmful bacteria and fungi. When flourishing, your gut flora can help boost your immune system, ward off obesity, form vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids and even stave off depression. Since short-chain fatty acids feed your colon cells, they help create a barrier than keeps out harmful bacteria and fungi. This reduces inflammation and may even help prevent cancer. Prebiotics may even help strengthen your bones.
The foods you eat affect your gut bacteria. For example, if you eat a high sugar, high fat diet, you’ll develop insulin resistance. That’s because you’re feeding the wrong type of bacteria, allowing them to flourish in your gut, instead of healthy and helpful bacteria. In turn, you’ll gain more weight and experience more illnesses.
Antibiotics and pesticides may also have a harmful effect on your gut bacteria. Although more research is needed, try to limit your antibiotic use and make sure to wash your produce thoroughly.
There are over 1,000 different kinds of bacteria in your gut, and it’s important to maintain a healthy balance between them all. The best way to do this is by ingesting as much healthy bacteria as possible (probiotics) and giving them the food they need to thrive (prebiotics).
Where to find prebiotics
Prebiotics are different types of fiber, so you can find them in a number of foods you probably consume on a regular basis. You can’t digest the fiber on your own, but your healthy gut bacteria can. You’ll find prebiotics in legumes, fruits and vegetables.
Foods with high levels of complex carbohydrates and resistant starch are good sources of prebiotics. Find prebiotics in berries, oats, legumes, beans, peas, asparagus, dandelion greens, garlic and leeks, among other foods.
Generally, you should eat three to five grams of prebiotics per day, although your doctor may have further recommendations. If you get the recommended daily amount of dietary fiber, you’ll more than likely get enough prebiotics in your daily diet.
How to get probiotics
Fermented foods and yogurt are a great source of probiotics. Look for high-quality yogurt with live bacteria if you want to get a natural source of probiotics. Sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, pickled vegetables and kombucha are all smart (and tasty) choices.
The most important thing to look for is whether these foods have been pasteurized. If so, that kills the helpful bacteria which makes them probiotic foods.
Some of the foods are also considered synbiotics, which means that they contain both healthy bacteria and a food source for them to consume.
Of course, you can also get probiotics in supplement form. If you’re sensitive to dairy or other probiotic foods, this is a good choice. Keep in mind that all probiotics are not created equally, and may contain different levels of healthy bacteria. It’s important that you talk to your doctor to get an appropriate, high-quality recommendation for your specific dietary needs.
Remember that probiotic supplements are bacteria only—they do not contain prebiotics. You still need to eat fibrous foods along with your supplements in order to encourage the bacteria to thrive. Pay attention to the storage recommendations on the package: some need to be refrigerated to stay effective.
Another reason to talk to your doctor? Some people shouldn’t take probiotics. If you suffer from small intestine bacterial overgrowth, it could damage your intestinal health. Other people may be sensitive to the ingredients in the supplements.
Eat well, stay healthy
Ultimately, whether you get your prebiotics and probiotics from supplements or natural foods, just make sure that you get them. They’re crucial to your immune system and gut health. There should be plenty of natural sources for both that work with your diet, but supplements are always an option in a pinch.
When you get suitable amounts of prebiotics and probiotics, you’ll enjoy better overall health and wellness—and who couldn’t use more of that?