Gut health is one of the most important factors in health. Within gut health, two nutrients are of particular interest: probiotics and prebiotics.
But what are these nutrients, and how can you utilise them to your benefit?
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are ‘good’ micro-organisms that can populate your gut flora and benefit health. Usually they are bacteria, although there are some probiotic yeasts as well. They are grown when a food is fermented.
There are countless benefits that probiotics can offer. Originally it was believed that they only supported digestive health. But now we know they play a much bigger role in health, supporting:
- Mental health
- Immune function
- Production of nutrients
- Cardiovascular health
- and more!
A good way to look at probiotics is like the flowers and plants of the gut. You need to plant them and protect them from the environment if you want them to grow.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a particular type of fibre. This fibre cannot be absorbed by the human body, but it can act as fuel for the good flora found in the gut.
If probiotics are the plants of the gut, prebiotics are the mulch and water that nourishes the plants. If good bacteria and yeasts are fed, it is easier for them to establish a colony within the gut.
How often should I eat probiotics and prebiotics?
Ideally, you should be consuming one or both daily! By including them on a regular basis, you will support ongoing gut health. It is easier to include prebiotics daily, as you can find them in many fruits, vegetables and legumes.
However, it is important to start off slowly when adding probiotics into your diet. If you drink a litre of kombucha straight away, you may suffer!
When bad bacteria in the gut are shifted out by good bacteria too quickly, you can experience what is known as ‘die-off’. This includes symptoms such as bloating, gas, nausea and diarrhoea. So start off with small doses regularly, and build it up.
The same goes for prebiotics – if you currently consume a low-fibre diet, you might experience symptoms if you increase it suddenly.
To add probiotics into your diet, include:
- Natural yoghurts (dairy and non-dairy, as long as they have cultures)
- Milk kefir
- Water kefir
- Pickled vegetables
When looking at probiotic foods, make sure the product is not heat-treated or pasteurised, as this kills off the good bugs.
To reap the benefits of prebiotics, look to high prebiotic foods such as:
Is it best to consume probiotics and prebiotics in supplement form?
Nutrition always come first when it comes to any kind of nutrient. The food that you consume is more sustainable over the long-term than taking supplements.
However, some people may consider taking a supplement in the short-term to relieve symptoms and kickstart the gut healing process.
Supplements can vary in quality, and some are better suited to some health concerns than others. So if you’re considering a probiotic and/or prebiotic supplement, have a chat to Dr. Rebecca Farthing (osteopath & naturopath) about choosing the right one for you.