Prebiotics and Probiotics


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I have been a loyal devotee of probiotics ever since my internist first introduced me to the idea many years ago after a strong round of necessary antibiotics.

After experiencing the benefits for myself, I was hooked. So apart from taking probiotics, I have made it part of my daily routine to consume food sources of prebiotics and probiotics.

Now that probiotics seem to be a household name, we’re hearing a lot of chatter about the microbiome. Basically, the microbiome is made up of different microorganisms that include bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The largest microbiome lives in the gastrointestinal tract. We actually have more bacterial cells and genes in our body than human ones. And most of that bacteria lives in our gut.

A healthy gut microbiome supports a strong immune system, improves digestion and nutrition absorption, and also lowers levels of inflammation often associated with chronic diseases. Just remember, good health comes to those who feed their microorganisms right.

Probiotics

The trillions of good bacteria (and some yeasts, too) support overall good health all while living in our guts. They not only are associated with immunity, good digestion, and anti-inflammatory properties, but a growing body of research suggests probiotics could aid in weight loss, a lower BMI, and even with anti-aging. We naturally acquire our probiotics when we are born, but life’s unavoidable annoyances like illness, stress, antibiotic use, and diet affect their composition and quantity over the years.

Probiotics are most commonly found in cultured dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir; fermented foods like unpasteurized sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and naturally fermented sour pickles (not in vinegar); and acidophilus milk and buttermilk. Start simple by slowly adding these foods into your diet as often as you can.

Aside from food, probiotics do come in a variety of supplement forms in capsule, but they don’t provide the nutrition foods offer, plus they can run on the pricey side. If you do take probiotic supplements, it’s best to do so 30 minutes before a meal or simultaneously with a meal or beverage that contains some fat content.

Prebiotics

Probiotics tend to get all the attention, but it’s important not to forget it’s counterpart –prebiotics. Prebiotics, components of fiber, are also beneficial to the microbiota and digestive system. Sometimes referred to as fermentable ingredients or fermentable dietary fiber, probiotics are indigestible plant fibers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria by feeding probiotics. Our bodies need fiber-rich foods with prebiotics to nurture the friendly bacteria living in our guts.

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While there are no current recommendations for prebiotic intake, there are recommendations for daily fiber intake. Women should strive for 21 to 25 grams and men 30 to 38 grams. When we don’t consume enough fiber, the bacteria actually eats away at your mucus layer of the gut to get what they need. This leads to the inflammation often tagged as a cause of all sorts of diseases and conditions.

Having a diet that’s high in fiber feeds your good bacteria, creates a healthy gut environment, and decreases inflammation in the colon. It’s also linked to lower cholesterol and controlling blood sugar levels. You can increase your total fiber intake by eating foods from plant sources including whole grains, lentils, beans, peas, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. It’s really easy to incorporate these foods into your lifestyle. For example, Aunt Millie’s Best Grains bread contains 6g of fiber per slice, so if you were to have two slices of toast with a serving Greek yogurt you’d be getting half your daily recommendation and a dose of probiotics.

Foods high in prebiotics have additional beneficial components in the form of phytochemicals. So this is just one more reason why fruits, vegetables, and whole grains should be incorporated daily into our diet. Some specific top sources of prebiotics include: apples, asparagus, barley, dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, raisins, jicama, onions, bananas, artichokes, Jerusalem artichoke, chicory, oats, rice, potatoes, pasta, and legumes.

TLDR

A plant-based high fiber diet is the best way to enhance your gut microflora. Eat a lot of fiber from diverse natural sources. The positive effects of fiber and whole grains in the diet on gut microflora were outlined in a study published in the American Journal of Nutrition out of Tufts University. They support that the gains of eating these foods include an increase in gut microbial diversity along with enhanced immune and inflammatory response. To top it all off, some evidence has emerged that taking probiotics reduced BMI (body mass index) and body weight with the greatest reduction in BMI occurring in overweight adults. The best news is, improving your gut bacteria through diet driven changes can happen in a matter of days, so get to it!


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Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information. Learn more about her nutrition philosophy at www.lelailiopoulos.com.