Let’s play a quick game. Think of the first word that comes to mind after these cues:
- Batman and…
- Sherlock Holmes and…
- Bonnie and…
- Lucy and…
- Peanut butter and…
- Bert and…
- Milk and…
- Beauty and the…
- Salt and…
You probably got 100% because dynamic duos are memorable. In most cases, they accomplish together exponentially more than they can alone.
This holds true for another exceptional pair that you probably have not heard as much about – probiotics and prebiotics.
In recent years probiotics have become a household term. Most people understand that probiotics are healthy bacteria that can be found in some foods or can be taken as a supplement. They help to create a healthy environment in your gut.
The second part of this duo is a bit more fuzzy for most people – prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates that actually feed the probiotic colonies in your gut. Together they can clean up your digestive tract, inhibit pathogenic bacteria from overpopulating, and give a boost to your immune system.
Since you are probably not as familiar with prebiotics, here is a list of 37 to choose from:
Most of these vegetables are highest in prebiotics when eaten raw. However, lightly cooking them still provides benefits and may help if your gut is sensitive to fiber intake.
- Cabbage (Red and Green)
- Jerusalem Artichokes
- Fennel Bulb
- Collard Greens
- Chicory Root
- Dandelion Greens
- Brussels Sprouts
- Cooked and cooled potatoes
The list of fruits is not as long but is certainly an easily accessible form of prebiotics.
- Underripe Bananas
These foods represent some different nutrient groups but are also good options for adding prebiotics to your daily regime:
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Acacia Gum
- Brewer’s Yeast
- Whole Grain Wheat
- Whole Grain Rice
Understanding How Prebiotics Work
In simplest terms, a prebiotic is a type of fiber that helps the good bacteria in your gut to thrive. More than likely you have grown up hearing about fiber and your body’s need for it. The different kinds of fiber fall into two categories – soluble and insoluble.
Soluble fiber is dissolved by water and ferments in the colon as a result of bacteria. Insoluble fiber does not dissolve in water and is not fermented by bacteria.
Prebiotics are part of the soluble category, as they can be broken down and are fermented in the colon. While insoluble fiber is also important – think “roughage” – it is not responsible for feeding our probiotic bacteria and keeping the colony of good bacteria up.
The main types of prebiotics have some big names… it is important to recognize them so you can check out the label of any prebiotic and/or probiotic supplements you may be considering. They are:
- Resistant Starch
Multiple Benefits From the Probiotic-Prebiotic Dynamic Duo
The power behind this dynamic duo is in its ability to not only change your gut flora but also help maintain it. Research supports the idea that the environment in your gut has a direct correlation to your body’s ability to fight disease and stress through a strong immune system.
Here are 5 specific ways you can benefit by regularly including probiotics and prebiotics in your diet:
1) Alleviate symptoms of several GI issues –
- Traveler’s diarrhea and diarrhea from taking antibiotics – both impacted by the composition of gut bacteria. For more on how to deal with these bowel woes see this helpful article.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – helps to relieve symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, and constipation.(1)
- Candida – an unhealthy yeast, is not able to overpopulate when the good bacteria is present.(2)
- Leaky Gut Syndrome – holes in your gut that allow toxins to leak into your bloodstream and can cause an autoimmune response in your body leading to several negative symptoms. To learn more, read this informative article.
2) Reduce the chance of Heart Disease – Accumulation of cholesterol is a primary factor in Coronary Heart Disease. Research shows that acids created by probiotic bacteria actually reduce the amount of cholesterol made by the liver. In fact, probiotic bacteria eat cholesterol for nutrition.(3)
3) Protect against certain cancers – Colorectal cancer is the third major cancer-causing fatality in the US and has been found to have a connection to the composition of bacteria in the gut. Some human studies support the use of probiotics and prebiotics to keep the flora in a healthy range thus protecting against this deadly cancer.(4)
4) Reduce the stress hormone (cortisol) response – We often hear that reducing stress is important for our health, and while that is true, sometimes stressful situations are not in our control. Recent research suggests that prebiotics in our diet may alter the stress response.(5) This finding is particularly important to those who suffer from depression and anxiety.
5) Improve Bone Strength and Structure – As we age, we need to be purposeful about maintaining our bone strength and avoiding osteoporosis. Prebiotics, in particular, provide better mineral absorption and promote a higher intake of calcium keeping bones dense.(6)
5 Creative Ways to Put This Duo to Work for You
Understanding the relationship between probiotics and prebiotics is one thing, but how do you practically make them a part of your daily routine so you can reap the benefits of a healthy gut flora?
First, start with deciding how you will replenish your gut with health-producing bacteria. You can include many naturally occurring probiotic foods in your diet. Here are several:
- Pickled Vegetables
- Miso Soup
- Kombucha Tea
Another good option is to take a quality probiotic supplement. This takes some of the guesswork out for you, especially if you don’t see yourself eating the above items regularly.
Second, you want to feed your healthy bacteria with a prebiotic so that you can keep the colony thriving.
Choose from the list of 37 prebiotic foods above.
Does that seem overwhelming? Here are some creative ideas:
- Choose one from each section (vegetable, fruit, and other) every day. That could be as easy as this: Kiwi fruit in the morning with a healthy breakfast, a salad with kale at lunchtime, and some broccoli with garlic as a side dish at dinner.
- Pick a color of the day and try to get a probiotic and prebiotic with that color:
Monday – Yogurt and Cauliflower
Tuesday – Avocado and pickled asparagus
Wednesday – Honey and Kombucha tea
Thursday – Miso soup and unripe bananas
Friday – Tempeh and Onions.
- Take a quality probiotic and try one new prebiotic vegetable each week.
- Use honey as a sweetener for oatmeal, tea, or in baked goods.
- Make a breakfast smoothie with Spirulina powder (found in health food stores), underripe bananas, frozen strawberries, ½ cup greek yogurt, avocado and vanilla almond milk.
Good health comes from taking purposeful steps that turn into lifestyle choices. Make this powerful duo a part of your approach to better health.
Share with us one way that you have made strides in improving your health. We all can learn and be inspired by each other.
Steve Sisskind, M.D.
Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.
As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.
Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?
I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.
I invite you to connect with me by joining my free private community. I've helped thousands of people and I know I can help you too!
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1) Didari, T and Mozaffari, S and Nikfar, S and Abdollahi, M (2015) Effectiveness of probiotics in irritable bowel syndrome: Updated systematic review with meta-analysis. Retrieved from:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25780308
2) Kumar, S and Bansal, A and Chakrabarti, A and Singhi, S (2013) Evaluation of efficacy of probiotics in prevention of candida colonization in a PICU-a randomized controlled trial. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23361033
3) Saini, Rajiv and Saini, Santosh and Sharma, Sugandha (2010) Potential of probiotics in controlling cardiovascular diseases. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3023901/
4) Ambalam, P and Raman, M and Purama, RK and Doble, M (2016) Probiotics, prebiotics and colorectal cancer prevention. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27048903
5) Schmidt, K and Cowen, PJ and Harmer, CJ and Tzortzis, G and Errington, S and Burnet, PW (2015) Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25449699
6) Scholz-Ahrens, KE and Ade, P and Marten, B and Weber, P and Timm, W and Acil, Y and Gluer, CC and Schrezenmeir, J (2007) Prebiotics, probiotics, and synbiotics affect mineral absorption, bone mineral content, and bone structure. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17311984