Probiotics and Prebiotics: The Dynamic Duo

In the world of microbiome health the spotlight is often on probiotics, and for good reason! Probiotics are an important part of a healthy gut, and when they are missing your gut may suffer. So you found the perfect probiotic for you, and you are taking it diligently each day – you’re all set for a happy gut, right? It turns out that probiotics need to eat, too! When you’re stocking your gut with friendly bugs it is important that you are also eating the foods that keep them happy and well fed. By providing plenty of food for your probiotic microbes you are enabling them to grow and thrive, leaving less room in your gut for the not–so-friendly microbes that take advantage of free space.

The foods that nourish your microbiome are called prebiotics. Prebiotic foods are not digestible by us, but they are a delicious, healthy meal for our friendly gut flora. All prebiotics are composed of fiber – but this does not mean that all fiber is a prebiotic! Specific forms of prebiotic fiber include fructo-oligosaccharides, galacto-oligosaccharides, and inulin. The probiotic microbes in our gut are able to ferment these forms of fiber into molecules that our body can use, called short chain fatty acids. Short chain fatty acids are the primary energy source for intestinal cells, and can have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous properties. When you feed your microbiome properly, they happily return the favor by working to keep your gut at the top of its game.

Non-digestible dietary fiber is breakfast, lunch, and dinner for your gut microbiome, but what does this look like for you? Common sources of prebiotics include whole grains, nuts & seeds, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, beans, berries, and bananas.  You can incorporate these foods into each meal – start your day by combining probiotic and prebiotic foods in a berry yogurt parfait. At lunchtime have your sandwich of whole grain bread. And for dinner you can grill up some artichokes and leeks as a nutritious side dish. In between meals a handful of nuts makes a great snack. By including these foods in your diet you can keep your microbiome thriving.

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Martha Carlin