Everything you need to know about pre- and probiotics
You probably think of bacteria as something harmful and unhygienic, but that’s not always true. You actually have trillions of different bacteria living in your digestive system – some good, some bad – and striking the perfect balance between them is essential not just for a healthy digestive system, but for many other aspects of your health, too.
So, how do you help the good guys outweigh the bad? It’s probably no surprise that a healthy, balanced diet is your first port of call when it comes to good gut health (read: goodbye daily drive-thru and 3pm sugary snacks). If you’ve already got the basics down-pat, however, you might be wondering what else you can do to supercharge your gut – and that’s where focusing on pre- and pro-biotics can come in handy.
Prebiotics are essentially fuel for probiotics (more on that in a minute). They help the good bugs thrive! Instead of being digested in the stomach or small intestine, the prebiotic component of foods make their way into to the large intestine – and this is where all the magic happens. Bacteria in the large intestine ferment the prebiotic components, which creates by-products like short chain fatty acids that provide anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidative and anti-microbial benefits.
Most prebiotic food sources are carbohydrates, including bananas, onion, garlic, artichoke, asparagus, wholegrains (think: oats, barley and wheat), and legumes (like lentils, kidney beans, black beans).
Probiotics are good bacteria living in your gut. Unlike prebiotics, probiotics act in the small intestine, and their health effects are specific to the type of bacterial strain. The world of research into gut health is still relatively new, but having more of these friendly bacteria in your diet has been linked to many benefits, like improved digestion and immunity.
You’ve probably seen strains of probiotics (like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium) added to foods and supplements, but you can get them naturally from real food, too! Natural sources of probiotics include cultured dairy products – you’re sure to have seen trendy new options like kefir, but yoghurt and cottage cheese are just as good. Fermented vegetables (kimchi, sauerkraut and pickles, to name a few) also contain probiotics, as do other fermented products like kombucha, tempeh, miso and sourdough bread.
As you now know, both prebiotics and probiotics are essential for a healthy gut. It is important to consider their benefits in the context of an overall balanced diet and lifestyle. Eating a variety of all five food groups – fruit, vegetables, meat and protein sources, dairy and grains – will ensure you receive a variety of different prebiotic and probiotic foods to optimise the health of your gut.