What Are Prebiotics and Probiotics, and Why Should I Care?

Why do we need them?

Eating nutritious foods gives you energy and good health, but did you know that some foods possess potential hidden benefits? Certain foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics have been gaining the attention of dietitians, medical doctors, the media, and others.  Biotics don’t exactly sound like food though, so what are they? And why do we need them?

Here’s a quick graphic (remember Pac Man?!) that gives some pre-and-probiotics basics.

Prebiotics and probiotics are tiny components in food that act like “natural boosters”, and work together in a very specific way.

Prebiotics are, basically, non-digestible components that help feed the good bacteria and flora in the gut and intestines. Probiotics are the live bacterial and yeast cultures found in the stomach and intestines, and, as mentioned, feed off of prebiotics.

Here are some additional facts about prebiotics and probiotics that you might want to know, as you explore whether to add them to your diet plan.

  • Add green olives, Icelandic skyr (think Siggi’s yogurts), and acidophilus milk to the list of foods containing probiotic bacteria.
  • When choosing kimchi and sauerkraut, choose unpasteurized, or you will lose those beneficial bacteria. You may choose pasteurized kefir, since the ‘bugs’ are added after the pasteurization process.
  • Other examples of fruits and vegetables that provide prebiotics are asparagus and bananas. For foods that provide prebiotics, the raw products (except for whole wheat flour) seem to be the most beneficial.
  • Sprinkle raw wheat bran onto foods, or add soybeans to your diet, to increase prebiotics in your diet.

 Why should I care about including more probiotics to my gut, and also prebiotics (to make the probiotics happy)?

  • If the gut is lacking the flora it needs, or if it is populated with harmful bacteria, probiotics in foods can help replenish or repopulate the environment to restore balance.
  • Probiotics are responsible for a few things like digesting nutrients, killing harmful bacteria, and producing vitamins.  They can improve overall health, GI health, and immunity.
  • In recent studies adequate probiotics and prebiotics in the diet have been found to improve the symptoms of constipation and diarrhea.  Patients with chronic conditions like Crohn’s disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome have been found to benefit from applications of this particular nutritional intervention too.
  • Even skin conditions like eczema may benefit from these nutritional components.
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis (which can affect preterm infants) has been treated with a combination of prebiotic and probiotic therapies.

While prebiotics and probiotics have exhibited many desirable benefits, they are not always safe for everyone and are still being researched.  It has been found that when underlying conditions or compromised immune systems are a factor, these treatments may yield adverse effects.  If there is ever concern for safety, contact your physician for further direction.

The foods listed above are excellent examples of nutritional choices and can help to improve someone’s health. 

Check back later this month for when we explore a style of eating that not only improves your nutritional status but also reduces risk for certain diseases!

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