You’re likely acquainted with probiotics—and the benefits associated with enhancing overall bodily health—but you may not be aware of their partner in crime: prebiotics. These two (we like to think of them as significant others) share a special relationship in that probiotics are dependent on prebiotics to properly nourish the body and, in turn, bring you all the promised healthy benefits you’ve heard so much about (i.e. they complete one another). So, what exactly are prebiotics and how do they work?
Prebiotics are considered an indigestible form of plant fiber that acts as food for the “good” bacteria introduced into your system by probiotics. While probiotics may supply the necessary bacteria to boost gut health, prebiotics are an important and vital piece to the puzzle as they are required to nourish and fuel the good bacteria in order to help it grow and flourish. The effectiveness of the probiotic is directly affected by the food and fuel prebiotics provide.
As you may know, probiotics are typically found in fermented foods (sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and kimchi are all great sources) but they have to complete the journey all the way to your stomach—it’s actually an uphill battle thanks to the acidic environment and the fact that it’s difficult to distinguish the difference between good and bad bacteria—in order to be beneficial. That’s why prebiotics are crucial to the balance of restoring gut health as they promote the growth and health of the “good” bacteria to guide it in the right direction.
Enhancing the effectiveness of probiotics by combining them with prebiotics allows the body to reap countless benefits, particularly when it comes to the gut, which is closely tied with the immune system, metabolism, hormones, and of course, the overall digestive tract. This also relates promotes the production of T cells, which fight pathogens and inflammation and strengthen the immune system. Going beyond the belly, prebiotics can affect the overall health and well-being, especially when it comes to the brain as they may help reduce cortisol, which is related to stress, anxiety, and depression.
The best way to introduce prebiotics into your diet, aside from a supplement, is through raw, whole foods like Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), onions and leeks, dandelion leaves, garlic, asparagus, apple cider vinegar, and cooked and cooled potatoes, grains, and beans. It’s important to note the raw aspect of consumption as overcooking (or even heating) these foods at all can leave them with fewer probiotics and render them less effective.
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