In the midst of health crazes and fitness blogs, “probiotic” has become another popular health buzzword in 2017. If you don’t know much about the trending term, it is a healthy bacteria that helps your gut function, boosts your immune system, might even ward off everything from depression to diarrhea, and can be found in fermented foods, supplements for your digestion, or your face creams (because yes, your gut can even affect your acne).
While everyone should be taking a probiotic for a range of health (and beauty!) benefits, just a probiotic may not be enough. In order to make sure your probiotic is actually doing its job, you should be making sure you’re getting enough prebiotic. Don’t be fooled by how similar these names sound — probiotics and prebiotics have entirely different functions.
So What’s the Difference?
Probiotics are the good kind of bacteria, which is delivered to your gut and will continue to grow in order to balance your microbiome for a wide range of health benefits. Live probiotics (sometimes referred to as “active cultures,” but that sounds too much like a strep test to me) are available in fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, and miso, or you can opt for the bacteria in dry form through powders, tablets, and capsules.
Prebiotics are certain fibers that feed the existing good bacteria that is already in your gut, so it continues to grow and stay healthy. If you’re not getting any prebiotics, the good bacteria you’re digesting with your probiotic won’t be able to flourish. The benefits of prebiotics in themselves are vast, beyond just assisting probiotics. They can assist in weight loss, regulate hormones, and reduce stress, to name a few.
How to Get Prebiotics Just from Your Diet
Prebiotics can come naturally from many foods like garlic, onions, bananas, asparagus, leeks, and chicory root (which is used in coffee substitutions — you’re welcome). It’s important to remember that raw foods have more prebiotic fibers than cooked foods, so if you’re depending on these foods for prebiotics and cooking them in your meals, you might want to reconsider. A banana in your smoothie or raw onions and asparagus on your salad are some great examples of adding these raw, prebiotic-rich foods to your diet.
How to Get Prebiotics If You Prefer Supplements
If you prefer to take it as a supplement (which is a good way to manage how much you’re taking), powder is the best form, and it should be taken with a meal for optimal benefits. If taking a supplement, you should start small and work your way up to higher dosages, as having too much right away (just like too much of any fiber) can cause digestion issues or imbalances. Powder is the easiest form of prebiotic for this reason, as it is easily adjustable.
Are There Any Downsides to Prebiotics?
Just as with most things our bodies digest, each body reacts with it differently. People with certain digestive conditions like IBS or FODMAP Intolerance should talk to their doctor before trying to add in prebiotics, which might have a negative affect on their symptoms. If you have no digestive intolerances or conditions, but feel just bloated, constipated, or in pain after taking prebiotics, than you either need to lower your dosage or stop taking them altogether to see how you feel.
Bottom line: As long as you don’t have certain digestive conditions, start with a low dosage and work your way up to see what amount works best for you. Prebiotics just might be exactly what your body (and your probiotic) has been missing.