05 Feb Prebiotics and Probiotics – the what, why and (importantly) how!
I’ll be honest – while I always knew that probiotics are important to take while on antibiotics, that was about as far as my knowledge on them extended. Only when I got gastritis and I had to start taking much better care of my gut did the actual importance of both prebiotics and probiotics become clear to me.
What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?
Prebiotics are fermentable plant fibers that nourish the good bacteria that already exist in your gut while probiotics are the actual bacteria living in your gut. Both work together to ensure a healthy digestive system.
Prebiotics include fibres known as ‘oligosaccharides’ and resistant starches. They aren’t broken down by digestive enzymes or gastric acids and as such make it past the small intestine undigested and into the colon to feed the good bacteria found there. Buterate is a short chain fatty acid which is the main energy source for the cells in our gut. Prebiotics feed the buterate producing bacteria in the gut, which leads to an increase in buterate and this thus is beneficial to the health of our gut cells. L cell count increases, and when cells of gut are healthy it means gut hormones are regulated too. Many people don’t consume enough prebiotics on a daily basis and this can cause indigestion, inflammation and even lower immune functions.
Probiotics are found in fermented foods or foods with live cultures. They are essentially live bacteria that make positive changes to the gut. They are necessary to replenish good bacteria in the gut, especially if you have an overgrowth of bad bacteria.
How can these two things impact health and weight?
Firstly, increased consumption of foods that are higher in fiber are beneficial to weightloss anyway as they help with satiety (sense of fullness), tend to be wholesome natural foods, and help increase transit time of waste through the gut. Secondly, they lead to good gut health and digestion, which are extremely closely linked to weight regulation in a number of ways. The lowering of inflammation also helps with the metabolism of nutrients, is linked to healthier cholesterol levels, and also decreased chances of cardiovascular disease.
Basically, you could write pages on the overall health benefits of a healthy gut, in which prebiotics and probiotics play a fundamental role. But in the interest of keeping things brief, I’ll link to some interesting reads at the bottom of the article and get on to some practical ways to implement this into your life!
Obviously before we look to possible supplements to get these into your bod, lets look at foods that are good natural sources of them, and easy ways to incorporate them into your daily diet. This will ensure a wide range of fibre sources, and once again, health needs to be a lifestyle, which means it needs to be relatively easy and affordable.
Common foods that are natural sources of prebiotics (there are a host of others but they’re not the kind of thing you are going to find in your average supermarket i.e. raw dandelion greens or acacia gum):
- Raw Jerusalem artichoke – shred and add to savoury dishes or blend into a hummus like dip.
- Raw garlic – salad dressings, dips.
- Raw leeks – taste similar to spring onions when raw so chop finely and add to salads or veg dishes.
- Raw or cooked onions – such an easy one. What isn’t improved by the addition of onions really?
- Underripe (greenish) bananas – add to smoothies or chop up in a fruit salad.
- Rye and barley grains – found in certain breads.
- Most fruits and veg contain some degree of prebiotics, just smaller amounts than in the ones mentioned above. But this is another reason that you should be aiming to reach an adequate vegetable intake on a daily basis.
It is arguably a bit easier to include probiotics in your daily diet just because with a small amount of effort they are easily added to meals:
- Yogurt with live cultures. Just make sure the yogurt isn’t filled with additives and sweeteners – the plain natural ones are better.
- Kefir – add a tablespoon or two to your yogurt if you find the tart taste unpleasant. I personally love the flavour it adds to smoothies and stops them from being too sweet.
- Kombucha (fermented tea). While it can be quite pricy to buy, it can be made at home easily.
- Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) – yummy addition to any salad or sandwich.
- Any fermented foods
- Apple cider vinegar – add to a salad dressing or just drink a tablespoon with some water.
- Tempeh (fermented soybeans)
It is totally understandable if some of these foods are completely foreign to you, but I recommend just picking one or two to start with, finding out where to buy them, and incorporating them into at least one meal a day. It doesn’t have to be daunting! Put in the effort for a few weeks and see if it makes any difference to how you feel.
Here are some links to recipes (not my own – although I am definitely going to develop some!) that include a lot of prebiotics and probiotics:
- Cacao Kefir Pudding
- One pot breakfast
- Homemade kombucha tea
- Oven roasted asparagus
- Beans with cannellini beans and pancetta
- A variety of fermented foods (sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi)
- Leek, pea and prawn risotto
- Artichoke and olive antipasto
In terms of supplements, both prebiotic fibre and probiotics can be purchased from just about any health shop. Most of these work fine (just be sure to incorporate them into your diet slowly so that you don’t shock your digestive system), but I just think that if you are not consistently willing to spend money on it and make sure that you’re stocked up, you can quickly run out and then find yourself not consuming any at all. That’s why I like the idea of incorporating the above mentioned foods into your daily diet so that it becomes an effortless and easy habit that benefits your life without requiring much discipline or commitment to maintain.