Two very popular health buzzwords unheard of ten years ago are probiotics and prebiotics. Most of us have associated these two with benefits to our digestion, but we don’t really know much more than that. Fooducate is here to clear up the confusion once and for all.
The short version:
Probiotics are friendly microorganisms inhabiting our digestive tract that aid digestion and may confer additional health benefits.
Prebiotics are non-living, non-digestible carbs that serve as food for Probiotics.
Now the details:
Probiotics are, for the most part, bacteria that reside in our intestinal tract. Other types of probiotics are yeast. Probiotics get into our intestines from foods we eat or supplements. There are many types of probiotics, and each one behaves a bit differently in our gut. Although the term “probiotics” is relatively new, we’ve been ingesting them for thousands of years. Any food that is cultured or fermented has probiotics: yp
Foods with probiotics include:
yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk
aged cheese such as cheddar, Gouda, or Parmesan
sauerkraut, kimchi and other pickled versions of veggies
miso (fermented barley or soy or rice)
tempeh – fermented soy
kombucha – a fermented tea that is gaining in popularity in the US
beer, wine (yay!)
The health benefits of probiotics are potentially wide and varied, but scientists are only starting to understand the complex symbiosis between the gut, the bacteria, and the rest of our body. Some potential health benefits, aside from keeping us regular, include treatment of diarrhea, reduction of lactose intolerance, improved immune system, lower chances of colon cancer, and reduction of blood pressure and cholesterol.
By the way, when you are sick and take antibiotics, you’re killing off the germs that made you ill, but also the probiotics.
On to prebiotics. Unlike probitoics, these are not alive. Most prebiotics are some form of fiber. Our body does not digest fiber, but the bacteria in our gut, including the probiotics, digest the fiber. Feeding these helpful bacteria keeps them doing what they are supposed to do in order to help our health.
Foods with prebiotics include:
raw chicory root – the top source, with almost 60% fiber
raw Jerusalem artichoke
raw garlic, leeks, and onions
fruits and vegetables
Since each of us has different bacteria swimming around in her gut, the effects of the consumption of the same exact probiotics and prebiotics may be very different. Experiment with different foods and see what works for you. The best way to consume probiotics and prebiotics is via food, not supplements.