All the experts say that you are what you eat. In turn, many people believe that this translates to you being responsible for what you feed the millions of organisms that live inside you, especially in your gut. The lining of your stomach is covered with millions of tiny bacteria. They are so vast and varied that they create a small ecosystem of their own, named microbiome. While we may not acknowledge its presence, that ecosystem has a profound impact on our overall health. So, how does it matter, and what can we do to ensure that our gut stays healthy? Here’s a look at what makes prebiotics and probiotics so crucial to our bodies.
Our Gut- Home To Millions
Since our gut is home to millions of microorganisms, what you feed those organisms is vital. This is why what we eat is so critical, as that feeds these organisms as well. The healthier they are, the healthier you become. However, it isn’t easy to keep them on a healthy diet, as the microbiome contains over 1000 species of bacteria. Two ways you can ensure that the ecosystem survives, adapts, and grows is by giving it two different products. You can choose to provide these bacteria with the food they like, or you can choose to add more of such good bacteria to your gut. So, how do we do that?
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a type of specialized plant fibers and work like fertilizers for the growth of good bacteria in your gut. It stimulates and promotes the well-being of such good bacteria, and should be a standard part of our diet. It is found naturally in fruits, veggies, and other items containing resistant starch and other complex carbs. As these aren’t easy to digest, they go through our digestive tract to become food for the bacteria in our gut. If that wasn’t enough, many companies now produce, market, and sell prebiotic supplements containing complex carbohydrates like fiber.
What Are Probiotics?
Unlike prebiotics, probiotics do not give nutritious food to the bacteria, but rather, it adds new bacteria to our gut. They contain beneficial live bacteria that help in increasing the population of healthy microbes in the body. Like with prebiotics, you can consume probiotics either through food or supplements, with the most popular option being yogurt. Since yogurt comes from fermenting milk, it contains a lot of beneficial, healthy, and different bacteria. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi also act as good probiotics. Probiotic supplements contain either a particular strain or different strains of microbes.
Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics
Trillions of bacteria call your gut their home. Many of them have a massive impact on your digestion and over health. Though prebiotics and probiotics work to make you healthier, and even sound alike, they are different in many ways. First and foremost, their method of delivery is entirely different.
While probiotics improve gut health by adding new bacteria, prebiotics does it by providing nutrition to the bacteria in your gut. One tries to solve your digestion woes by making the stomach a more habitable place for the bacteria, whereas the other aims to improve the bacterial population. Probiotics do not change the environment but instead helps the digestive tract by adding more beneficial bacteria to it. They help maintain the balance of microorganisms in your body and work as a useful repopulation tool.
On the other hand, prebiotics work towards making it easier for the bacteria in the gut to survive. It contains complex carbs like fiber, which is hard to digest for the body. Therefore, it passes through the stomach, helping to enrich the bacterial population, allowing them to thrive. Also, while a significant component of prebiotics is fiber, not all fiber serves as a prebiotic.
Benefit Of Prebiotics and Probiotics
Both prebiotics and probiotics play a complementary role, working in tandem to improve our gut health. They work together as a team to support the microbiome by finding the right balance of healthy bacteria. While prebiotics help nourish the bacteria, probiotics quickly repopulate the gut, in case the bacteria die out, or grows less in number. These bacteria help our body digest food, prevent inflammation, and even communicate with our immune system.
Lactobacillus helps prevent diarrhea and also with the digestion of milk and other dairy products. Bifidobacterium eases the symptoms that accompany irritable bowel syndrome, prevents constipation, and boosts the immune system. Probiotics combat gastrointestinal issues and even prevents the growth of bacteria that causes yeast infections. Prebiotic fiber improves bone density and also helps with weight management and brain health.
List of Prebiotic and Probiotic Food
Probiotics- Food items made by fermentation
- Kefir, a fermented milk drink
- Sauerkraut – Fermented cabbage
- Kimchi – Fermented Veggies
- Plain organic and live yogurt
- Tofu, tempeh, and miso made by fermenting soy
- Kombucha – fermented black or green tea
Prebiotics – Food rich in a particular type of fiber.
- Garlic, onions, and leeks
- Asparagus and artichokes
- Apples and under-ripe bananas
- Chicory root and potatoes
- Dandelion greens
What To Keep In Mind
- Several probiotics sold in the US do not have proper FDA approval. Always make sure you check the label before buying any supplements. You need to make sure that the ingredients are natural, safe, and healthy for consumption.
- There are so many different kinds of supplements that you need to do your research before deciding on which to buy. Since there are so many different strains and types of bacteria, it is better to consult a doctor to determine which supplement to buy. You will have to compare different strains, mixed blends, and different dosages before choosing one.
- Also, while probiotics and prebiotics are considered healthy, research regarding their usage is still in the early stages. Therefore, while certain supplements may claim a lot of things, you might not get all the benefits.
- Since prebiotic supplements are still new, with studies being done to gauge their benefit, you should try to avoid these. Also, since prebiotics is found readily in fruits and veggies around us, try to include them in your diet rather than take a supplement.
- People who have a chronic illness, suffer from immune disorders, and have digestive tract ailments should always consult a doctor before taking probiotic supplements.
Therefore, as we can see, while prebiotics and probiotics sound similar, they are, in fact, very different. They play different yet critical roles in ensuring that our gut stays healthy and active. So include these foods in your diet to make sure that the millions of organisms living inside you remain healthy and looked after!