Prebiotics and Probiotics: Creating a Healthier You

Contributors: Sarah Klemm, RDN, CD, LDN
Granola and Fruit Parfait - Prebiotics and Probiotics: Creating a Healthier You

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You've probably heard of prebiotics and probiotics, but do you know what they are? Probiotics are live microorganisms (specific types of bacteria and yeast) that provide health benefits when you consume them in the right amounts.

Although probiotics are available as dietary supplements, some may be found through fermented foods, too.

Research continues in this area of nutrition — investigating which strains of probiotics are present in specific foods and which ones provide health benefits. While this is still an area of study, there are a few key points that are worth keeping in mind.

What Are Prebiotics and What Do They Do?

Prebiotics are naturally occurring, non-digestible food components that are linked to promoting the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. Simply said, they're "good" bacteria promoters. Prebiotics may improve gastrointestinal health as well as potentially enhance calcium absorption.

Prebiotics in Your Diet

Prebiotics include fructooligosaccharides, such as inulin and galactooligosaccharides. But rather than focusing on these lengthy words, include more prebiotics in your day by eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, beans and whole-grain foods.

What Are Probiotics and What Do They Do?

Probiotics are the "good" bacteria — or live cultures — 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 gut health.

Probiotics in Your Diet

Fermented dairy foods like yogurt, kefir and certain cheeses, often contain live cultures such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. These live cultures may act as probiotics. Other fermented foods may contain live cultures, but these strains may not have been studied well enough yet to know if they provide additional health benefits: such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and cultured non-dairy yogurts.

What Makes Prebiotics and Probiotics the "Dynamic Duo?"

Ultimately, prebiotics and probiotics work together. Prebiotics are the breakfast, lunch and dinner for the live probiotics, which can help improve gut health.

Incorporating health-promoting functional foods, such as those containing both prebiotics and probiotics, aids in creating a healthier you. On the menu, that might mean enjoying bananas atop yogurt or stir-frying asparagus with tempeh.

For specific advice on obtaining prebiotics and probiotics for your own specific health needs, especially if you have GI issues or a weakened immune system, contact a registered dietitian nutritionist

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