Has your doctor or dietitian recommended that you work more prebiotics and probiotics into your diet? If so, it’s a great recommendation because they are good for your digestive system, or more commonly called, your gut. 

Now you know that prebiotics and probiotics are good for you, but do you know what they are and how they contribute to our health? Nutrition research has identified certain functional components of food that may improve health, such as prebiotics and probiotics. 

Probiotics are live microorganisms, aka the “good” bacteria, which, according to your dietitian, can provide health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts. Probiotics are live cultures that help change intestinal bacteria to balance gut flora. This may fight inflammation, boost immunity and overall health, especially our gastrointestinal health. Probiotics can be found within fermented food products or as a nutritional supplement. For a food or beverage to be considered a “probiotic”, there must be sufficient live bacteria that survive food processing so they’re found in the final product. The bacteria that survive are known to benefit human health based on research studies. Bifidobacterial and lactobacilli are live bacteria both commonly found in foods labeled to contain probiotics. To include more probiotics in your daily food intake, look for fermented dairy foods such as yogurt, aged cheese, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, or tempeh. 

Prebiotics are naturally occurring, non-digestible food ingredients that are linked to promoting good bacteria in the gut. Your dietitian will point out that prebiotics may improve gastrointestinal health and potentially enhance calcium absorption. Many prebiotics are found in high-fiber foods that human digestive enzymes cannot break down so they are fermented in the gut bacteria by the colon. Good dietary sources of prebiotic are vegetables, whole grains, legumes, chicory, artichokes, soybeans, and wheat bran. Strong evidence exists for the use of specific prebiotics in reducing the extent of diarrhea, constipation and immune stimulation. 

Ultimately, prebiotics and probiotics work together synergistically meaning they work better when they are combined, so the gut needs both of them to keep your gastrointestinal tract healthy. For example, adding a banana to yogurt or sautéed tempeh with artichoke is a win-win. 

There is ongoing research on the effect of pre and probiotics in both food and dietary supplements and we continue to learn more about their effects on health. For individualized advice on getting prebiotics and probiotics for your specific health needs, whether you have gastrointestinal issues or a weakened immune system, contact Behavioral Nutrition to be put in touch with one of our registered dietitians.