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Prebiotics and Probiotics - What are They and Should You be Taking Them?

Our gut is an incredible microbiome, an entire world within your body full of living organisms that outnumber your body’s own cells 10 to 1. While it may sound far-fetched, the reality is our bodies play host to millions of microscopic living organisms, many of which are essential to our own health.

Probiotics, in particular, are living strains of “good” bacteria that live in your digestive system. Probiotics are naturally found in many fermented foods, but you can also use a probiotic supplement containing living bacteria strains to support your body’s good bacteria population and, therefore, your gut health. These bacteria help to defend your body against infection and inflammation, support digestion and have been shown to possibly improve mental health, gastrointestinal health, and the immune response.

Probiotic Food Sources:

  • Kimchi

  • Sauerkraut

  • Kombucha

  • Yogurt

  • Kefir

  • Fermented cheeses, like gouda, feta, and swiss

  • Pickled vegetables (non-pasteurized)

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are plant fibers that are resistant to digestion and serve to feed that colony of good, probiotic bacteria deep in your gut. Because these fibers resist breakdown from the acid and enzymes in your stomach and small intestine, they’re able to reach the colon intact, where they are then fermented to produce vital nutrition for probiotic bacteria. Prebiotics are found in fiber-rich foods such as many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. They can also be found in powdered form and supplements, such as chicory root and inulin.

Prebiotic Food Sources:

  • Cooked and cooled white or sweet potatoes and rice

  • Green bananas and plantains

  • Berries

  • Apple skin

  • Oats

  • Beans

  • Peas

  • Lentils

  • Artichokes

  • Leeks

The resistant starches found in many prebiotic food sources also offer incredible metabolic benefits, including improving insulin sensitivity, lowering blood sugar, and improving satiety. Regularly eating resistant starches may even reduce your risk for colon cancer and other digestive diseases, and having improved insulin sensitivity and lower blood sugar reduces your risk for a long list of chronic illnesses.

So, how do you know if you should be taking/eating more prebiotics and probiotics? In general, those with metabolic diseases such as diabetes, and other chronic conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and inflammatory bowel disorders, can benefit significantly from prebiotics and probiotics. For most, small changes to your diet can make a huge impact on your health, and supplements can help fill in the gaps when needed. However, it IS possible to overdo it, especially if you’re taking supplements, so it’s a great conversation to have with your healthcare provider.

Ready to start that conversation, but not sure where to turn? Vitality is ready to help!

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