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Prebiotics: Nourishing the Friendly Bacteria in Your Gut

Yiwen Lu, MS, RD, CPT
August 26, 2023
December 8, 2023

From managing your weight to lowering your blood sugars and boosting your spirits, having a healthy digestive tract has been shown to help our general well-being in a myriad of ways. Have you ever wondered why some people are much more gassy than others? Do you sometimes have puzzling stomach pains or changes to bowel movements that come and go? Here we review some healthy food groups you can mix into your routine here to help you keep your gut balanced.

Probiotics vs Prebiotics? What about Synbiotics?

Probiotics exist in the human body, mostly making a cozy home in your stomach and intestines. Probiotics can also be manufactured from food.

Probiotics are living microorganisms that are good for your brain, body, and especially your digestive system and metabolism. 

Prebiotics is a class of fiber that exists in foods. The human body cannot digest prebiotics, but to some extent, your probiotic bacteria can. 

Probiotics can work on their own, but  they work more effectively with the addition of prebiotics. While Probiotics contain bacteria to help colonize the gut, prebiotics actually help feed the probiotics with all the special types of fiber they contain. Essentially, prebiotics act as fuel for probiotics. Using probiotics and prebiotics together is called microbiome therapy. 

Fermented vegetables are probiotics
Cultured dairy like yogurt and kefir are probiotics
Fiber from fresh vegetables, grains, and fruits are prebiotics

Foods or supplements that contain both probiotics and prebiotics are called synbiotics. Synbiotics are usually sold in the form of supplements. If you are interested in synbiotics supplements, make sure to talk to your healthcare provider about the recommended strains, dosage, and brands. However, synbiotics supplements are not very well studied. Eating natural foods that are rich in probiotics and prebiotics may be more beneficial to your health.

Where Can I Get My Fibrous Prebiotics?

Get prebiotics in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Some examples of the different types of gut-helper (pre-, pro-, and synbiotics) include:

If you are reading food labels, fibers, or prebiotics, can come in many forms and have different names. Some chemical names for these natural fibers are:

  • Fructosaccharides or Oligosaccharides
  • Inulin or inulin fiber
  • Chicory fiber or chicory root
  • Psyllium fiber or husks
  • Oligofructose

Manufacturers also make prebiotics supplements. Like probiotics, however, the US FDA doesn't require supplements to be tested to make sure they work.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) only regulates the safety, but not efficacy of dietary supplements, as stated in the FDA website. This means that the FDA will approve it as long as it doesn’t make you sick. But whether it actually does what it claims to do is unknown.

In general, your healthcare provider will likely suggest you to get prebiotics from natural foods for better absorption and a cheaper price, but a small amount of fiber is contained in some supplements, like Metamucil, if the fresh foods are hard to come by in your area. 

How to Maximize Benefits from Prebiotics?

Go raw with prebiotic foods! Cooking can alter their chemical structure, so keep it fresh for a gut-friendly boost.

Try incorporating prebiotic foods in sushi or salad. If you must cook these high fiber foods, blanching or steaming them can allow more fiber retention compared to boiling or sautéeing.

Putting it all Together 

Some researchers suggest that probiotics might not make it all the way through the intestinal tract to reach the gut. Imagine probiotics as a person who is not very good at swimming and prebiotics as a flotation device. With the aid of prebiotics, probiotics can arrive at the final destination (your gut) safely. 

Here’s an example of three meals each containing a pre and probiotic for optimum gut health.

  • Breakfast: plain natural yogurt with fresh berries, a slightly green banana, and a tablespoon each of oats and chia seeds
  • Lunch: veggie burger with sauerkraut on a sprouted wheat bun
  • Dinner: Broccoli beef, bell pepper & kimchi stir fry, steamed brown rice

So go ahead and create your own synbiotic therapy by adding more natural probiotics and prebiotics foods in your diet! Vegetables are abundant in probiotics and prebiotics. Check out this article if you want to know more about ways to add more vegetables to your diet.

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