I’m sure you’ve heard of the terms “prebiotics” and “probiotics.” But do you really know what they are, and the role they play in your body?
Probiotics are known as “good” bacteria that are similar to the naturally occurring bacteria found in your GI tract. We can think of them as a supplement since they work withour resident bacteria to keep our digestive system healthy and functioning properly. Probiotics are living organisms. And, as we all know, living organisms need food to survive. For that reason, prebiotics exist and serve as the food source for probiotics.
Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible food (fiber) that probiotics use as energy, or fuel.
Since our bodies cannot digest fiber, it remains in the GI tract for most of the digestive cycle, until it reaches the large intestine, where most of our gut bacteria is rooted. Then, bacteria ferments and breaks down the prebiotics to help in the digestion of food, the production of certain vitamins, and in keeping the immune system healthy.
So, why are probiotics and prebiotics significant?
Our gut plays an important role in our health, especially the health of our immune system. It is filled with trillions of different bacteria, but not all of them are beneficial. The goal of consuming probiotics and prebiotics is to increase the ratio of “good” bacteria to “bad” bacteria.
Everyone’s gut microbiota is unique, and it can be impacted by the foods we consume. Most of the time, our microbiota can adapt to change. However, there are some instances where a rift in the balance can arise. Research states that such imbalance may be linked to inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, allergies, and diabetes ( 1) . Moreover, ongoing research have attributed prebiotic and probiotic consumption with reducing antibiotic associated diarrhea, improving mild to moderate IBS and other digestive symptoms, and maintaining overall digestive and immune system health( 2) .
Where can I find prebiotics and probiotics?
Prebiotics are naturally found in fruits and vegetables such as apples, bananas, artichokes, garlic, onion, leeks, and tomatoes; in grains such as bran; and in nuts such as almonds. Hence, including a variety of fruits and vegetables in the diet is one way to make sure you are getting natural sources of prebiotics in your diet.
Probiotics supplements are available, but you can also find them naturally in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, tempeh, miso, kimchi, pickles, and in some cheeses such as gouda, mozzarella, and cheddar.
Maintaining a healthy environment for gut bacteria to thrive is key to optimal health. Supplements are readily available, but make sure to include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains in your diet so you can reap the benefits of these little living organisms!
1.European Society of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. (2017). Gut Microbiota for Health. Retrieved from http://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/en/about-gut-microbiota-info/
2.Sanders, M. (2016). Probiotics. International Scientific Association of Prebiotics and Probiotics. Retrieved from https://isappscience.org/probiotics/