You've heard a lot about probiotics by now, and you've probably heard about prebiotics too. The trend has been booming. You have an idea that you should eat both regularly, but how do you easily fit more into your day? Before we jump in, let's review what prebiotics and probiotics are, their individual benefits as well as their combined power, how often you need to eat them, and where to find them.
First, let’s start with the basics.
What is a prebiotic? What is a probiotic?
Your body thrives off of the delicate balance between good and bad bacteria in your gut. It sounds odd to say that having bad bacteria in your body is actually good, but it’s true. Now keep in mind, the good bacteria heavily outweigh the bad in a healthy gut, almost 9 to 1. So the role of good bacteria is even more important than you might have realized. You want to protect those good bacteria and feed them to help fight and keep the bad bacteria from multiplying or taking over. One of the most effective ways to do this is by stacking your diet with foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics.
Probiotics are the good bacteria and prebiotics are the food needed to feed the good bacteria in your body. Prebiotics help to create and strengthen a healthy environment in your gut for the good bacteria to thrive, keeping the bad bacteria at manageable levels. Prebiotics are in essence the fuel, or a carbohydrate, for the good bacteria in your system. These fibers can be found naturally in foods like bananas, onions, oats, and apples to name a few, or they can be taken as a supplement. Probiotics can be found in foods like yogurt, miso, kombucha, or other foods that have been enriched with probiotics.
Something to keep in mind - If you are an overproducer of bacteria (medically diagnosed) then eating foods heavy in prebiotics or probiotics would likely not be recommended. You don’t want to add more bacteria or provide additional food for said bacteria, into your system if it is already overwhelmed. And remember, before starting any particular health regime or diet, it’s always important to contact your doctor.
Prebiotic and Probiotic Health Benefits
Gut health is widely understood as one of the main and most important reasons to consume foods rich in probiotics and prebiotics because of the direct correlation between your gut functions and that of your immune system. By empowering the good bacteria in your gut to flourish, your body has a better chance of fighting off the bad to maintain that necessary balance.
In addition to good gut health, probiotics also help to improve your mental health, lower blood pressure, and aid in weight loss. Prebiotics benefit more than just gut health too. They are known to aid in weight loss, help to normalize blood sugar and increase your bone health.
OK, we're convinced! Now, let's get into the 'how'.
How often do you need to replenish your prebiotics and probiotics?
It’s easy to get both probiotics and prebiotics into your diet daily by choosing foods rich in both ingredients. The International Scientific Association of Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) suggested that you get at least 5g of Prebiotics a day, sometimes needing up to 15g. More scientific research is needed to determine a suggested amount of probiotics, but in general, is it best to keep a healthy diet that includes high-quality natural fiber sources and those that contain probiotics.
In addition to the general guidance of making probiotics and prebiotics part of your regular balanced diet, there are a few suggested times you might especially want to consider incorporating those foods into your diet.
- Are you being treated for an infection with antibiotics? “Antibiotics are generally administered to kill specific microorganisms; however, since most antibiotics have a wide range of effects, they also affect related microorganisms. These effects are imprinted in the intestinal environment for several months after discontinuation of the dosing” as described in a study published by the National Institute of Health. It can be highly beneficial to take a daily probiotic for the duration of your antibiotics and a few days after.
- Cold and Flu Season is a great time to up your intake. Boosting your body’s immune system allows for your body to have a stronger immune response to help fight off the bad bacteria and maintain that healthy balance. Adding a probiotic to your diet can help in providing your body with good bacteria while taking a prebiotic will provide the fuel that good bacteria need to thrive.
- Travel can take a toll on your body. You are often exposed to more germs by touching surfaces in highly trafficked areas and sharing the air space with potentially sick travelers. Boosting your immune system before, during, and after travels can help to fight off any potential germs you may come into contact with.
- When your body becomes overwhelmed with circumstances outside of its ability to cope, your immune system can start to suffer. According to an article published by the Cleveland Clinic “stress decreases the body’s lymphocytes — the white blood cells that help fight off infection.” Therefore eating foods rich with natural prebiotics and probiotics can positively impact your body’s ability to handle its response to stress.
What if you're having GI symptoms?
Sometimes as a result of an insufficient diet, you might find that you experience symptoms that could point to a need for more probiotics and prebiotics. There are several indicators to an unhealthy gut that you may not be aware of, so here are some examples of symptoms to look out for:
- Bloating, gas, diarrhea
- Food sensitivities
- Bad breathe
- Skin problems
- Sugar cravings
- Mood swings, anxiety, depression
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, you might want to consider increasing your fiber intake and decreasing sugars and fats. Plus, incorporating foods rich with prebiotics and probiotics into your diet might be just what your body needs. For more details on how the digestive system functions, the work it does for your body, and the importance of adding fiber into your diet, check out the following article “Why You Need To Eat More Fiber ASAP.” That said, if you're concerned about any of these symptoms you should definitely consult your doctor.
How To Eat More Probiotics and Prebiotics
There are a lot of wonderful, healthy food options rich with natural prebiotics and probiotics that you can incorporate into your diet. In fact, you might already eat some of these foods without realizing their full health benefit. While studies are still needed to understand and determine the exact amount of prebiotics and probiotics needed or recommended to take daily (there are loose suggestions, as detailed earlier), it’s good to incorporate one or more of these foods into your diet regularly.
It is also important to note that the benefits of eating probiotic-rich foods can be compromised by outside factors. The bacteria in your microbiome, the probiotic, are delicate and intricate systems. Some of the top killers of probiotics are antibiotics, sugars, alcohol, stress, lack of sleep, and more. Eating foods rich in probiotics isn’t enough to ensure your body is fostering a healthy immune system and operating a productive digestive system. You need to also take a full body, holistic approach to your health that includes exercise and eliminating or decreasing stress, among other factors. As for prebiotics, it is important to increase your water intake if and when you’re eating foods with prebiotics, typically high-fiber foods. So to keep your digestive system moving, drink lots of water.
Prebiotic and Probiotic-Rich Foods and Snacks
Here are 10 Top Foods With Probiotics:
- Cottage Cheese
- Apple-Cider Vinegar
- Parmesan Cheese
Here are 10 great foods with prebiotics:
- Wheat Bran
Eat them together to make it even easier to fit both probiotics and prebiotics into your daily diet. Here are 5 great snack hacks to easily eat more probiotics and prebiotics.
Banana & Yogurt Parfait
A banana and yogurt parfait is a perfect marriage between two foods rich in both probiotics and prebiotics that you can get in one little snack. Layer yogurt and bananas in a glass dish or cup. For added protein or flavor, you can add a spoonful of nut butter! Mix it together and enjoy!
Miso + Leafy Green Soup
You can take a traditional miso broth, rich in probiotics, and add some delicious leafy greens to incorporate prebiotics. This light, healthy snack will keep you warm during the winter or in a cold office.
These delicious snack bars are not only packed with prebiotics and probiotics but come in a variety of robust flavors that will surely satisfy your sweet tooth (with low sugar and Omega-3s too).
Pickled Veggie + Jicama Salad
You can make this to suit your taste buds! Choose any combination of pickled vegetables like beets, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, and more and mix them with some freshly chopped jicama for a nice crunch. You’ll enjoy a delicious and healthy prebiotic and probiotic friendly snack!
Prebiotic and Probiotic Smoothies
Smoothies are an easy and delicious way to get prebiotics and probiotics into your diet. For four great smoothie recipes, click here.