I’m just so confused…what is all this talk about pre- and probiotics?
Many of us have likely heard of probiotics. And, if so, you might think of your gut, yogurt or a supplement. You are right on track. Prebiotics might be a less heard of term, though we are hearing about them more and more. Let’s dive in!
Probiotics are live, active microorganisms. They are mainly bacteria, however, can also be yeast. They indeed can have health benefits stemming in the gastrointestinal tract (GI tract). What exactly do they do? Well, they help to digest, ferment and break down the foods we eat. Would you believe that these microbes out number our human cells within the body? We have trillions of these “friendly” microbes. We are born with a unique variety of microbes. Our age, what we eat, where we live, our stress levels, health status and use of antibiotics all play a role in the types of microorganisms our gut holds. Bottom line, probiotics are our friendly bacteria!
Prebiotics “feed” probiotics, or that is the way I like to think of them. In other words, they promote our good bacteria. They are essentially nondigestible fibers found naturally in plant-based foods. Yet another reason to up your fruit, vegetable and whole grain game.
There are many different types, or you may hear them called strains of probiotics. We won’t dive too deeply into this, just know that scientifically probiotics are classified by genus, species, and strains. On a package label you may see components of those 3 classifications. You might see “Lactobacillus” which would indicate the genus. Not all are created equal. Different species and strains within a genus may have different benefits or no benefits at all. There is still lots of on-going research.
Probiotics do have several potential healthful benefits: from GI health to protecting against harmful bacteria to promoting immune function and cardiovascular health to enhancing nutrient absorption. How exciting, right?! Nevertheless, we must be mindful that much is still unknown about probiotics. We also know that each of us have a unique make up of bacteria and various probiotics may not work the same in each of those environments. It is also important to note that there are no recommendations or dosage guidelines for the use of probiotics as supplements.
Foods containing prebiotics and probiotics are ones to encourage. Think about more naturally occurring sources vs. many of the emerging products with added probiotics. Sources of prebiotics include apples, asparagus, garlic, leeks, onions, tomatoes, bananas, beans and peas, flaxseed, sweet potatoes, wheat bran, and whole wheat. Sources of probiotics are yogurt, kefir, and fermented vegetables with live cultures. Look for labeling that reads “live and active cultures”.
Prebiotics and probiotics work as a team to promote healthy gut environments!