What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are indigestible components in food that essentially feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. More commonly known as soluble or fermentable fibers, prebiotics are broken down in the colon by intestinal bacteria to produce energy and nutrients that promote the growth of healthy bacteria. Fermentation of these prebiotics also produces short chain fatty acids that can be reabsorbed into the blood. These short chain fatty acids have numerous health benefits including, reducing cholesterol synthesis in the liver and strengthening immune function.

What are probiotics?
Probiotics are the good bacteria that help promote health by crowding out potentially bad bacteria. Probiotics help enhance immune function, as well as reducing risk for intestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome. A couple of the most common strains of probiotics found in foods and supplements include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.

How can I get pre- and probiotics in my diet?
Prebiotics are found in many fibrous foods and produce, such as apples, onions, asparagus, legumes, nuts, oats, and barley. To make sure you are eating enough prebiotics, focus on consuming fruits and vegetables at every meal, include healthy cereal grains, such as oats for breakfast, snack on nuts, and include legumes at lunch and dinner.

Probiotics are best known for being in dairy products such as yogurt and kefir, but can be found in a variety of non-dairy foods as well. Products like tempeh, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut and non-dairy yogurts, such as soy or coconut yogurt, all contain beneficial strains of probiotics.

Pre- and probiotics have a synergistic relationship, meaning they work together to promote health and ward off disease. To enhance this relationship, try to consume them together. For example, make a fruit smoothie and use kefir or yogurt as a base. Add chopped up bananas and nuts to yogurt, or add a side of steamed asparagus to your tempeh.

Do I need to supplement probiotics?
As the health benefits of probiotics are becoming increasingly evident, more and more supplements are popping up on the shelves at local grocery and health food stores. Supplementing may be beneficial for individuals who don’t consume a lot of probiotics in his or her diet, whom have health conditions that require special attention to probiotics in the gut, or for those who have been directed by their doctor or registered dietitian to do so. Not all supplements are created equally so it is important to consult with a physician or registered dietitian about which supplements are best for you. Remember that prebiotics and probiotics work as a team, so consuming them in your diet is more beneficial than consuming them alone in a supplement. If necessary, use a supplement to complement your diet.

Remember that probiotics are your gut’s best friend, so feed them the nutrition they need and they will help take care of you! 

Stephanie is a senior at Oregon State University studying for her B.S. in Dietetics. She is passionate about learning how food can heal the body and wishes to share her knowledge with others. After graduation Stephanie will attend a dietetic internship to become a Registered Dietitian and hopes to work with eating disorder patients or in a wellness center teaching clients to shop and prepare whole foods for themselves and their families.