Probiotics and prebiotics. They’re everywhere. But unlike nutrition food trends that come and go, continuous research supports the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics, linking the gut microbiome with improved digestion and overall health. While you’ve probably heard about each before, we thought we’d begin by breaking down what they are and why they’re important.
Probiotics. Probiotics are live microorganisms AKA bacteria that hangout in your gut. You can increase them by eating foods that naturally contain them, foods that have probiotics added to them, and supplements. A common misconception about live microorganisms is that they’re harmful but some bacteria, like probiotics, can be useful to balance the gut flora. Depending on the strain, amount and the individual person, probiotics can improve digestive health by reducing constipation or gas, combating certain forms of diarrhea, and promoting regular bowel movements. (Bonus: findings suggest it can improve mental health like anxiety and depression too).
Prebiotics. Prebiotics are a type of fiber or non-digestible carbohydrate (that’s right, carbs!) that stimulate the growth and activity of the probiotics. It can be helpful to think of prebiotics sort of like a fertilizer, helping to keep new and already established microbiomes thriving. Some health benefits attributed to prebiotics are improved absorption of minerals in the gut, protection against intestinal infections, and improved immunity by increasing the population of protective bacteria.
Ultimately, they work together. It’s important to get a variety of both and you may already be consuming them without knowing it. Some examples of prebiotics are oats, sunroots, barley, seaweed, bananas, potatoes, garlic, onion, dark chocolate and legumes. You can find probiotics in your fermented foods like kimchi, miso, yogurt, kefir, kombucha, pickles, buttermilk, sauerkraut. Rather than striving for perfection to eat it everyday, consider focusing on incorporating a variety of these over time in addition to a supplement, in ways you enjoy!