Prebiotics: Why probiotics simply aren’t enough

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By now most people are familiar with the term “probiotic”, yet many are less familiar with prebiotics, which are just as essential to intestinal health. While a probiotic is a type of live bacteria that promotes healthy gut functioning, a prebiotic is what is necessary for a probiotic to be able to work properly. In other words, a prebiotic is the “food” that feeds probiotics. It is defined as a non-digestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines.


Why are prebiotics important?

The gut plays a role in numerous functions in the body including digestion, neurotransmitter production, and immunity. Poor gut health has been associated with a host of diseases and ailments including obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmunity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and mood disorders. Because prebiotics promote proper functioning of the gut, they can also play a role in helping prevent or manage such conditions.


Where are prebiotics found?

 Many foods that contain fiber are sources of prebiotics, but not all high fiber foods are good sources. Some of the best natural prebiotic food sources include garlic, onions, leeks, apples, flaxseeds, asparagus, unripe bananas, barley, oats, cocoa, wheat bran, chicory root, and seaweed (see my post about Spirulina here).

 Prebiotics can also be taken in supplement form that can be purchased online or in most health food stores, and are generally safe to consume. They are most commonly sold in capsule or powder form and can vary in price from about $15-30 or more for a one to two-month supply. The best prebiotic supplements are those that are made from all-natural ingredients based on food sources of prebiotics. Other common ingredients that may be found in a prebiotic supplement include inulin and fructo-oligosacchardides, which are types of carbohydrate molecules.  Some probiotics supplements also include prebiotics, yet usually only in small amounts. Although supplementing with prebiotics can be a good option if the diet is lacking in prebiotic containing foods, consuming whole foods is always the preferred method as it will provide the body with the other vital nutrients also found in those foods.


Next time you think about supplementing with probiotics, be sure your diet also includes adequate amounts of prebiotic foods to help to the probiotics work to their full potential. 


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