By Kim Robson:
What is the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?
Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, that live safely in your digestive tract. Probiotics are vital for proper absorption and digestion of food, and for actively synthesizing various nutrients such as vitamin K, pantothenic acid, folic acid, thiamine (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), niacin (vitamin B3), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), cyanocobalamin (vitamin B12), and various amino acids and proteins. When tested, people with gut dysbiosis always present with deficiencies of these nutrients.
85% of the body’s immune system is found in the digestive tract! An average adult carries 2 kg of bacteria in the gut. Believe it or not, there are more microbial cells in your digestive tract than there are cells in your entire body. It is a highly organized micro-world, where certain species of bacteria need to predominate to keep us physically and mentally healthy.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School have found evidence of a relationship between “good” bacteria and the immune system. Certain gut bacteria influence aspects of the immune system, correcting deficiencies and increasing T-cells. Exactly how this interaction works isn’t well known yet.
Some of the best sources of probiotics include
- Yogurt containing live or active cultures
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi and pickled veggies
- Miso soup
- Soft cheeses like Gouda or Brie
- Sourdough bread
The common feature of all these foods is fermentation.
Prebiotics are not alive. Most prebiotics are some form of indigestible fiber. Our body does not digest this fiber, but the good bacteria in our gut, including the probiotics, do digest the fiber. Feeding these helpful bacteria keeps them healthy, which in turn helps keep us healthy.
The bacteria that live in the colon are extremely important to wellness. The healthy bacteria there strengthen the bowel wall, improve mineral absorption, and aid in the regulation of hormone production, which has a range of essential benefits. Prebiotics fertilize these good bacteria and stifle production of disease-causing bacteria, and combat gut dysbiosis.
What foods are good sources of prebiotics?
The types of foods that contain probiotics and prebiotics are very different. Therefore, there is no food that contains both. Foods with prebiotics include:
- Chicory root (the top source, with almost 60% fiber)
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Garlic, leeks and onions
- Whole wheat
- Fruits and vegetables (especially bananas and apple skins)
Since we all have slightly different bacteria in our guts, the effects of consuming probiotics and prebiotics may vary from person to person. Experiment with different foods and see what works for you. The best way to consume probiotics and prebiotics is via food, not supplements. Most people should consume around 25 grams of fiber daily. Those who find it difficult to eat enough fiber, however, should consider a prebiotic fiber supplement, which is mild in texture and nearly tasteless, making it easy to add to water, cereal, or any other food.