Probiotics and prebiotics: what are they, how do they differ, and why are they beneficial?

We’ve all heard health starts in our guts, but why is that? Let’s have a quick chat about probiotics and prebiotics, and their importance!

Probiotics can be described as the “good bacteria”. I.e. Live bacterias or yeasts that are commonly found in fermented foods and can also be taken as a supplement.

Examples of vegan probiotic foods include sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, kimchi, fermented soy foods (e.g. tempeh, miso), and kombucha.

Benefits of probiotics include:

· immune system support

· support gastrointestinal microbial balance

· reduces the risk of bowel diseases

· supports bowel health – stool regularity

· gut-brain link, supports mental health

· gut-skin link, supports skin health

Prebiotics are simply defined as the food that good gut bacteria eat. They are a group of compounds that are fermented by favorable gut bacteria, then produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) as a byproduct, which are what provide the beneficial effects.

Types of common prebiotic compounds include fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), and trans-galactooligosaccharides (TOS). These compounds are commonly found in foods such as chicory root, garlic, onion, asparagus, leek, Jerusalem artichoke, bananas, psyllium husk, oats, apples, flaxseeds, and wheat bran.

Benefits of prebiotics include:

· modulating gut microbiota (feeding the beneficial bacteria and downregulating the growth of opportunistic pathogenic bacteria)

· increasing intestine functionality

· immune modulation

So why not try incorporating some of these foods into your daily meals? And if you struggle to include these, just focus on fiber! As that's the easiest way to get prebiotics into your diet and your gut will love you (go slow if you're not used to it though!). Over time you'll want to aim for over 30g of fibre per day! This may look like:

  • Breakfast (1/2 cup of porridge oats (2g), with a medium chopped pear (5.5g), 1 tbsp chia seeds (5.5g) = approx. 12g fibre)

  • Lunch (1 large baked potato (8g), 100g baked beans (6g) = 14g fibre)

  • Dinner (Lentil stew: 1 cup lentils (15g), 1 onion (1.2g) 1 carrot (1.7g), 1 leek (1.6g), 100g chopped tomatoes (1.9g) = 21g fibre).

This is roughly 10g of fibre per main meal. You can see how by increasing whole plants foods, fibre increases consequently. Just don’t forget to add a protein source to these meals too.

So, instead of reaching for that probiotic supplement next time you feel digestive discomfort, how about trying some prebiotic strains first? And working on modulating those gut microbes through prebiotics? And as always, I will always recommend 1:1 support as gut stuff can be tricky - so head to this link for some personal support and be sure to comment and share if you found this useful!

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