One of the biggest health food movements of the last decade is the shift to eating more gut-friendly foods. The more we learn about the gut microbiome, the more important it becomes to nurture the good bacteria that live in it. Unfortunately, the Western Diet is very hard on gut flora, which means many people need to repair their gut before they can nurture it.
Enter: probiotics and prebiotics. You’ve likely seen both of these included on everything from yogurt to kombucha, and even in supplement form. There’s a reason they’re so trendy—it’s because they’re on the front lines of stabilizing your gut microbiome and allowing your gut flora to proliferate in a healthy way. Here’s what you need to know about both of them.
Probiotics are a gut’s best friend
Most of the foods you eat that are gut-friendly are that way because they contain probiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria found in foods that aid in digestion and gut health. For example, yogurt and kefir are rife with probiotics: live bacterial cultures that, when introduced to your gut, will go to work to promote digestion and other essential gut processes.
Probiotics are very important because they can replace gut flora that have died out or been killed off as the result of everything from antibiotics to poor diet. Moreover, they aid in balancing the gut’s good bacteria vs. bad bacteria—the kind that can cause indigestion, GERD and other gut-related problems.
Where to get them
- Sauerkraut and kimchi
- Yogurt and kefir (dairy and nondairy)
- Pickled vegetables (unpasteurized)
Prebiotics nurture the healthy flora in your gut
While probiotics are live bacteria, prebiotics are fibers that nurture and feed those bacteria. Think of prebiotics as food for probiotics and a way to nourish them once they’ve taken up residence in your gut. These are fibers that your body can’t digest, but the bacteria in your gut can.
Most people understand the importance of probiotics and the need to replenish their gut flora, but don’t realize that after they’re replaced, they need to be cared-for. Too often, people replenish their flora with probiotics, but don’t nurture them, which causes them to die off until the process is repeated over again. Adding a healthy number of prebiotics to your diet can promote lasting stability in the gut by nurturing the flora you’ve worked so hard to replenish.
Where to get them
- Legumes and beans
- Bananas, Berries and fruits
- Greens and leeks
- Garlic and onions
Combining pro and pre for complete gut health
For most people, getting the most out of probiotics and prebiotics comes down to using them correctly. It’s not enough to take one or the other—it’s best to add both to your diet to gain maximum benefits for your gut. This is why it’s often best to supplement, to control the amount of both probiotics and prebiotics you’re introducing to your system, and making sure it’s consistent daily.
First, start by creating a healthy gut environment. This means scaling way back on sugar, fatty foods and processed foods. These are all food for bad bacteria, which will thrive on simple sugars and eventually overcome the good bacteria. Take a look at your diet and do your best to trim out a few of the treats here and there, adding more protein and fiber in their place. Do this for a good week or so, and drink plenty of water.
Once your gut is prepped for recovery, introduce a probiotic supplement to your daily regimen. Add it to an existing supplement stack you take each morning or take one with your morning breakfast. Alternatively, you can add specific probiotic foods to your diet throughout the day, such as kefir in the morning and kombucha at lunch time.
After a week of good, healthy eating and probiotic supplementation, add prebiotics to the mix. This will nurture the healthy gut bacteria you’ve been steadily adding back into your gut microbiome. Continue this regimen into the future to continue replenishing and nourishing good bacteria in your gut.
Positive gut feelings
In a few weeks after introducing probiotics and prebiotics to your system, you should begin to see positive changes—everything from a better mood, to more energy, to improved digestion. This is the power of a healthy gut, and it’s why the science is becoming more adamant about protecting and nurturing your gut’s microbiome. The good news is, a better biome is just a few weeks away with proper probiotic and prebiotic supplementation.