Prebiotics and Probiotics: Put that healthy bacteria to work!

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You’ve probably heard of prebiotics and probiotics, but do you know what they are? Nutrition research has pinpointed specific functional components of foods that may improve health, and prebiotics and probiotics are two such substances.

According to Kristi King, MPH, RDN, CNSC, LD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, these ‘nutrition boosters’ are natural ingredients in everyday food, so focus on food sources first. “They are more readily available for absorption and digestion,” she says. While research continues in this area of nutrition — investigating how effective and safe these substances are and how much we need to obtain health benefits. Here’s the skinny to date:

What Are Prebiotics and What Do They Do?
Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food ingredients that are linked to promoting the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. Simply said, they’re the ‘good’ bacteria promoters. Yes, not all bacteria are bad! Prebiotics may improve gastrointestinal (GI) health as well as potentially enhance calcium absorption.

Prebiotics in Your Diet
Prebiotics include fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), such as inulin and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). Include more prebiotics in your diet by eating these foods: bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, soybeans and whole-wheat foods.

What Are Probiotics and What Do They Do?
Probiotics are actually ‘good’ bacteria (or live cultures) just like those naturally found in your gut. These active cultures help change or repopulate intestinal bacteria to balance gut flora. This functional component may boost immunity and overall health, especially GI health. For instance, probiotics have been used for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Some strains of these live cultures may help prevent specific allergy symptoms, reduce symptoms of lactose intolerance and more. However, effects can vary from person to person.

Probiotics in Your Diet
To obtain more probiotics, King recommends enjoying fermented dairy foods including yogurt, kefir products and aged cheeses, which contain live cultures (for example, bifidobacteria and lactobacilli). Plus, non-dairy foods also have beneficial cultures including kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and soy beverages.

Put “Team Bacteria” Prebiotics and Probiotics in your Starting Line Up
Ultimately, prebiotics (“good” bacteria promoters) and probiotics (“good” bacteria) work together synergistically. In other words, prebiotics are breakfast, lunch and dinner for probiotics, which restores and can improve GI health. Products that combine these together are called synbiotics. On the menu, that means enjoying bananas atop yogurt or stir-frying asparagus with tempeh is a win-win.

The bottom line: At minimum, prebiotics and probiotics are keys for good gut health. Basically, incorporating health-promoting functional foods, such as foods containing prebiotics and probiotics, into the diet potentially aids in creating a healthier you.

So be sure to include food sources of prebiotics and probiotics in your grocery cart and if you have any questions ask Greta, Shannon, Reggie, Katie or any on of us at Herban. We’re here to help!

[Source: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics]

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