Digestive Health Part II: Probiotics & Prebiotics

woman eating yogurt full of probiotics

The microbiome is crucial to our overall well-being (learn more about the microbiome in Part 1 of this blog series). It’s so important to know how to take care of it. Most of us have heard of the term probiotics, but what about prebiotics? Prebiotics and probiotics have a very close relationship to one another, so it is important to understand them and how they work together in order to provide the greatest benefit to your gut.

Before going any further, we need to say that these are only a select few ways to give your gut some TLC. There are many other great things that can be done, so please do explore beyond these topics!

Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria that many of us may think of as little capsules that are taken as a daily supplement. While this is true, probiotics are abundant in certain foods, too. Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and miso are rich in probiotics (among others!). As always, getting nutrients from whole food is the best option, but there are times where a supplement may be beneficial.

When enduring an illness, probiotic supplements may help to keep the immune system strong. This is especially true when antibiotics are in the mix. Antibiotics don’t discriminate over good and bad bacteria, which means while it may eradicate those that are harming you, it is also getting rid of those protecting you. Be wary of antibiotic use as they can be prescribed even when not warranted (e.g. viral infections). Talk with your doctor and ask questions before agreeing to take them to spare your microbiome the stress when possible. If you are in a situation where antibiotics are necessary, taking a probiotic supplement may help keep the population of good bacteria high.

When choosing a probiotic supplement, there are certain things to look for. Some of the big indicators of a quality supplement include several strains of probiotics and a colony forming unit (CFU) in the billions. The concentration of CFU can decrease over time, so it is important to look at expiration dates to ensure you are getting the most out of your supplement. Some probiotic brands have been tested for label accuracy and purity, contributing to some of the recommendations below. Watch out for certain brands like Nature’s Bounty as they have failed testing and were shown to contain mold. Purity testing results were found via labdoor.com where hundreds of supplements are tested and available for consumer insight. On top of contamination issues, many brands tested contained far less CFUs than the label claimed. Here are a few brands that are recommended from testing and clinical research standpoints:

  1. Culturelle – products cover a wide range of needs from babies
    to adults; target immunity, antibiotic use, or travel-related issues
    among other things with their specialized probiotic blends
  2. Garden of Life Primal Defense Ultra – contains 13 strains,
    15 billion CFUs, and has been tested for label accuracy and purity
  3. TruNature Digestive Probiotic – 3 strains, 10 billion CFUs
    (although testing shows it contains 18 billion, label accuracy not great?!), passed all purity testing
  4. Bio-K+ – special blend of 3 strains, offering up a range of CFUs from 12.5 billion to 50 billion, and offers capsules and flavored drink options (both dairy and non-dairy available); proven to improve symptoms of antibiotic-related issues; also available for kids

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are a type of fiber that come from carbohydrate sources. These fibers are important because they are food for the bacteria in our gut. A unique type of fiber, called resistant starch, is particularly important to gut health as it fuels only the good bacteria. This helps to keep them healthy and abundant, while staving off the bad guys. Some of the best sources come from underripe bananas (the riper, the less resistant starch), whole grains like rolled oats and pearl barley, beans, and legumes. White beans have one of the highest resistant starch contents out of all sources. This is another great reason to incorporate more whole grains and legumes into your diet! So many parts of your body will thank you.

If you’re really interested in trying out some whole food, microbiome-pleasing meals, slice an unripe banana atop your morning yogurt or whip up some lentil miso soup. These foods certainly don’t need to be eaten together to reap their benefits, but they sure can be!

If you have more questions regarding probiotics, prebiotics, or gut health in general, set up a FREE one-on-one nutrition consultation with a nutrition coach! Click the button below to get started.

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Written by Whitney Ament, former Nutrition Intern at Elite Sports Clubs

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