By Ruth Vodonos, Healthy Aggies Intern
Most people have heard of have been personally prescribed antibiotics at least once in their life. Antibiotics are meant as either treatment for, or prevention of, infections and work by either killing or repressing the growth of bacteria. You may have also heard of probiotics, probably through clickbait type news articles throwing out words like microbiome, gut health, and writing about the need to consume fermented foods like kombucha or else face dire consequences.
The need to consume kombucha (especially if, like me, you don’t exactly enjoy the taste) is far from necessary. Your microbiome, the micro-ecosystem created by microbes lining your gut, contains an impressive number of bacteria, nearly 1,000 different species in the gut alone. Healthy gut microbiota may not be something most people think about every day, but maintaining a healthy balance of intestinal bacteria through diet is essential to maintaining overall health.
So, what’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics? Prebiotics are essentially a natural part of many plant foods that we can’t digest (non-digestible fibers), but the bacteria in our gut can digest it; prebiotics serve as “food” for the probiotic bacteria, helping them grow. This is beneficial to maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Probiotics on the other hand actually contain strains of living bacteria, possibly augmenting those that are naturally already found in your microbiome.
Sure, these are available as pills and other forms of dietary supplements, but be careful of dietary supplements. Supplements are completely unregulated and there is no guarantee that what the label says is actually in the bottle. What are some dietary sources of prebiotics? Well, foods that are high in prebiotics include garlic, leeks, onion, asparagus, and Jerusalem artichokes as well as most fruits and vegetables. When searching for probiotics there are plenty of fermented dairy foods to consider, such as yogurt, kefir, and aged cheeses. There are also useful strains of bacteria found in non-dairy foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and cultured non-dairy yogurts. So there’s no need to force yourself to eat something you do not enjoy, when there are so many options out there for both prebiotics and probiotics!
It is also important to note that there may be a benefit to consuming prebiotics and probiotics together, referred to as synbiotics, because they can work together synergistically. In the case of fermented vegetables, that happens naturally!
Eating half of each meal as fruits and veggies, also including a whole grain or starchy vegetable along with a serving of a protein rich food, will likely give you everything you need each day.