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Prebiotics 101

Probiotics are your gut’s best defense in the world of the microbiome. They’re the “good” bacteria that fight off inflammation and disease and boost your immunity.

But what about PREBIOTICS?

Prebiotics are non-digestible fiber compounds or carbohydrates that help feed the probiotics and help them grow. There are plenty of excellent ways to get prebiotics — you might already be eating them — garlic is one!  I’m breaking down how prebiotics and probiotics work together to help you stay healthy and keep your immune system strong. 

WHAT ARE PREBIOTICS? 

Keep your gut healthy is ideal since it carries out its many important bodily functions, from sleep to digestion to weight management. Studies have shown that gut health is directly tied to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

 Probiotics have been proven to help prevent age-related disease, but now a new body of research shows that getting enough prebiotics in your diet is just as important as eating probiotic-rich foods.

Prebiotics help the probiotics do their job. Because prebiotics are mainly fiber and carbohydrate, they bypass digestion, so when they reach the colon, they become fermented by the microbiome. The most common kind of prebiotics is oligosaccharides.

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Many plant-based foods are excellent sources of oligosaccharides. Some examples are:

  • Onions

  • Leeks

  • Garlic

  • Legumes

  • Asparagus

  • Artichokes

  • Whole grains

 How Probiotics & Prebiotics Work Together

When you haven’t been getting enough sleep or eating a healthy diet, or taking an antibiotic to treat an infection, it can create an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. You might experience gastrointestinal issues, like constipation, diarrhea, bloating and indigestion. But prebiotics work synergistically with probiotics to stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus fermentum, and Bifidobacteria, to help bring back balance. 

Some creative ways you can combine prebiotics and probiotics in a meal include:

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  • Greek yogurt (or pea, cashew, or almond yogurt, if you’re dairy-free) with a banana

The probiotics most commonly found in Greek yogurt are Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus. When the fiber and carbohydrates in a banana reach your colon, they become fermented by your gut and turn into prebiotics. The prebiotics fuel the good bacteria — the Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thremophilus — so they grow and bring balance to the microbiome. Lactobacillus bulgaricus, in particular, is great for relieving digestive issues, including lactose intolerance, constipation, nausea, leaky gut syndrome, and diarrhea.

  • Sauteed tempeh and artichokes

Studies have shown that soy-based tempeh helps promote the growth of Bifidobacterium, a type of good bacteria, that boosts immunity and fights disease. Together with the oligosaccharides in artichokes, Bifidobacterium can help reduce the number of pathogenic bacteria in the gut, like E.coli and enterococci. 

  • Buckwheat noodles with asparagus

You’ll mostly find fermented buckwheat in sourdough bread, but it’s also in some grain alcohols. Fermented buckwheat has been shown to help deliver good bacteria to the gut flora.  A 2013 study found that when buckwheat and oat bran were combined with probiotic-enriched milk, the good bacteria was enhanced and their survival rate improved. Think: sourdough toast with a creamy cashew cheese and sauteed asparagus. The prebiotic fiber from asparagus will help carry over good bacteria from the buckwheat in sourdough bread to your gut.

  •  Pickled veggies in a grain bowl

Sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles and other pickled veggies are good sources of probiotics. Just make sure you buy brined in vinegar and salt because those will have active cultures. By adding pickled veggies to your grain bowl, you reap the symbiotic benefits of probiotics and prebiotics. The fiber-rich vegetables and whole grains in your salad offer prebiotics that supports and promotes the probiotics in the pickles, kimchi and other pickled veggies.

In addition to improving your digestion and protecting your gut, here are some other ways prebiotics and probiotics work together to improve your overall health.

  • Improves Sleep and Diminishes Stress

Studies show that the microbiome influences your body’s internal clock, and a diet rich in probiotics may help improve the quality of your sleep. By nourishing your microbiome with sleep-boosting nutrients, like potassium and magnesium chances are you’ll sleep better at night. Prebiotic foods are excellent sources of these key sleep nutrients and help regulate your blood sugar levels, so you don’t develop insulin resistance. And because your mood is directly linked to your gut health, prebiotics also work to help reduce stress and relieve depression and anxiety, which affect your sleep patterns.

  •  Adjusts Hunger Hormones

 Lack of sleep causes the hormone ghrelin to send signals to your brain that you need to eat more and stop burning calories. This leads to storing energy as fat and gaining weight. But getting more quality sleep at night and reducing stress in your life can help increase your leptin levels, the hormone that signals to your brain that you’re full. Incorporating more fiber-rich prebiotic foods can help you feel fuller longer and keep your blood sugar levels stabilized. At the same time, consuming more probiotic foods can help you become more resistant to stress and help you maintain gut health, even when you’re not feeling your best.

  • Improve Your Weight-Loss Goals

 Your gut is responsible for regulating your body’s metabolic functions, in other words your body’s ability to burn calories and use energy. When your gut takes a hit, your weight-loss efforts are affected, too. Not getting enough sleep, living in a constant state of stress and eating an unhealthy diet are all ways you can disrupt the health of your microbiome. If you want to shed pounds, make sure you’re eating a good mix prebiotics and probiotics to help balance your hunger hormones and boost your metabolism.

LET’S HEAR IT:

Do you suffer from digestive health issues? What are they, and what are you doing to help treat them? Share them below and post your gut-friendly meals on Instagram with #nutrition_connections! If you’d like to get more personalized advice on how to address your gut issues, consider signing up for our nutrition counseling program. You’ll receive a full nutrition assessment with a customized plan to address your goals and dietary needs.