I get a ton of questions when it comes to gut health, especially about probiotics and prebiotics. It’s a trendy topic but can be really confusing. What are they? Do you need probiotics AND prebiotics? What foods have them? Do you need a probiotic supplement? I’m breaking it all down for you here!
This post is sponsored by Align Probiotics. I was compensated for my time, but as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own.
Our bodies are full of bacteria. This bacteria is part of our microbiota, which is made up of all the bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in our body. The bacteria in our body actually outnumber our body’s cells 10 to 1, and much of it is found in the digestive tract. Sounds gross, I know, but this bacteria is essential for overall health.
When your gut bacteria become imbalanced, often due to lack of good bacteria or an overgrowth of bad bacteria, you can see side effects like constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas and more. Balancing out your gut bacteria starts with probiotics and prebiotics.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are called “good” bacteria, as they help keep our gut microbiome healthy. Probiotics help maintain our body’s balance of good and bad bacteria, which keeps our digestive system, and our body, working the way it should. Probiotics can also help replace the body’s “good” bacteria when it’s been lost, such as when taking antibiotics.
There are many different strains of probiotics but two of the most common are lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. There are many varieties of each of these found in various foods and in supplement form, with different bacterial strains linked to certain health benefits.
Probiotics occur naturally in foods that have undergone the fermentation process. Fermented foods include sauerkraut, kimchi, pickled foods, miso, kombucha and tempeh. Cultured foods like yogurt and kefir also contain probiotics.
Traditionally, fermented and cultured foods contained live and active probiotic cultures, however nowadays many of these foods are pasteurized which kills off the good bacteria (and in order for us to get the benefits, the bacteria must be alive). To combat this, food companies will often add probiotics back into the food after pasteurization.
This is where label reading becomes important: look for fermented or cultured food products that have the words “live and active cultures” on the label; this way you know they’ve been added back in after pasteurization.
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates that feed our gut bacteria. They are also called “fermentable fibers” or “functional fibers” and include inulin, oligofructose, beta-glucan and resistant starch. Resistant starch is particularly important, as it selectively fuels only the good bacteria (while other prebiotics feed both good and bad bacteria).
Prebiotic fibers are found in artichokes, asparagus, bananas, garlic, leeks, onions, as well as grains like wheat, barley, and rye. Foods high in resistant starch include oats, beans, legumes, green bananas, and cooked and cooled potatoes and rice.
Do You Need to Take a Daily Probiotic Supplement?
While cultured and fermented foods contain probiotics, there’s a chance you may not be able to get enough just through diet. Food sources of probiotics have the additional benefit of nutrients along with the good bacteria, however, supplements will often provide a higher amount of probiotics (measured in CFU’s, or colony forming units). Diet, travel, stress and changes in routine can all disrupt your natural balance of good bacteria so I generally recommend taking a daily probiotic supplement to help maintain your digestive balance.
When choosing a probiotic, it is important to look at what strains it contains, as this determines the health benefits. I recommend Align Probiotic as it has over 15 years of scientific research and contains Bifidobacterium 35624™, a unique, pure-strain probiotic developed by gastroenterologist that helps promote and support a healthy digestive system.* With my crazy travel schedule (I’m currently in the midst of a 3-week stint in California and Wyoming), what I eat often changes on a daily basis, so I’ve been relying on a probiotic supplement to help my digestive system maintain it’s natural balance.* I’ve been taking the new Align Extra Strength which contains 5x more good bacteria than the original Align Probiotic.
Probiotics are the good bacteria while prebiotics are the good bacteria promoters. They work in synergy with each other, so your gut needs both of them to keep your gastrointestinal tract healthy.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease