Disclaimer: Always consult your physician before beginning any prebiotic or probiotic supplements.
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Gut health is a hot topic in the health world these days, and prebiotics and probiotics seem to be at the center of the discussion. But even though you’ve probably heard these terms a million times, you might not know what role they each play in maintaining a happy gut. So let’s break it down to basics and talk about our tummies on a microscopic level.
Finding the Right Balance for Your Bacteria
A lot of gastrointestinal problems can stem from not having the right level of good bacteria in your digestive tract. That’s right — there is such a thing as good and bad bacteria! The good bacteria in your gut helps with a handful of biological tasks, like staving off inflammation and protecting you from harmful infections. If only we could give these little guys a high-five! We refer to these helpful little buggers as gut “flora” or “microbiota.”
How Prebiotics and Probiotics Fight the Good Fight
Prebiotics and probiotics each have their own role to play in the battle for better gut health. But to clear things up, here’s a handy guide for each term:
Probiotics: Living strains of bacteria that add to the population of good bacteria in your digestive system.
Prebiotics: Specialized plant fiber that acts as food for the good bacteria. This stimulates growth among the preexisting good bacteria.
So basically, probiotic foods and supplements add soldiers to your army, and prebiotics give the soldiers the support they need.
Eating the Right Food Can Make All the Difference
Making a change in your diet is all you need to do to boost your prebiotic and probiotic intake. But eating the wrong things (like high-sugar and high-fat foods) can feed the bad bacteria in your gut and give them an advantage over the good guys. So what are the right foods to support better gut health? Here’s a list of food for both prebiotics and probiotics:
- Miso soup
- Kefir (dairy and nondairy)
- Pickled vegetables
(Keep in mind that pickles need to be unpasteurized to have probiotics.)
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Dandelion greens
- Apple skin
- Chicory root
How to Get the Most Out of Them
Before you start taking prebiotics and probiotics, there are a few things you should keep in mind to make sure they’re as effective as they could be. Make sure your probiotics are kept cold in the refrigerator — heat can kill them. They’re living organisms after all! You don’t have to worry about this with prebiotics.
Also, if you’ve recently taken antibiotics because of a bad infection, those can kill the good bacteria in your gut — not just the bad ones. So it’s worth repopulating after you’ve finished your treatment.
Finally, a word on supplements. Probiotic supplements are made to repopulate your gut with specific species of bacteria. The type, quality and quantity can change from brand to brand. To ensure you’re addressing what you want to address, you should research your condition and take the right probiotic to combat it. And as always, talk to your physician to find the best course of action.