Prebiotics are more beneficial than probiotics
If you believe that probiotics are important for better gut health, would you be surprised to know that there are other foods called prebiotics that may be even more important? If you've been following this page for a while, you know that in order to have a healthy digestive tract, many times I've shared that probiotics, not only play a significant role in your health, but also ensure you have a strong gut and immune system. But is that it? Is that all of what you should do in order to have a healthy gut.... take probiotics? It's my thought that in order to get probiotics to improve your digestion, it's important that everyone incorporate more prebiotic foods into their diets.
Let's take a step back though and ask, "What is the end goal of simply taking probiotics?" Will your health, and more specifically, your gut health improve immediately? Although I believe your gut health and digestion will greatly improve by consuming probiotic foods, there are things that are actually more important for your body when it comes to the long-term health of your gut. Those being prebiotics and prebiotic foods.
Have you ever heard the word “prebiotics” mentioned or even know what prebiotics are? If you don't, you should know that if you believe in good gut health and take an active approach in having a healthy digestive tract by including probiotics in your diet, then you should certainly be consuming more prebiotic foods than you probably are.
So What Exactly Are Prebiotics?
It's quite common for people to hear the word “prebiotic” and think that they are the same as a probiotic, or maybe it's just a different way to pronounce it or mispronunciation, but prebiotics are separate and have a completely separate function than probiotics. Probiotics are living bacteria; prebiotics are not. Probiotics spend their life searching for food; prebiotics are the food for which it searches. Probiotics populate your gut and help you better digest food; prebiotics allow probiotics to do just that.
Prebiotics are the non-digestible parts of foods that you consume, that travel through the intestines, undigested, and end up in the large colon. Once in the colon, it begins to ferment, and it's this fermentation that begins to attract the probiotics with the goal of "partnering up" with the probiotics to form a symbiotic relationship that will go to and support the host (in this case, the human body). Prebiotics are simply fibers that the body can't digest, and that ultimately end up serving as fertilizer food for the probiotics. In order to maintain a healthy gut, you actually need both probiotics and the prebiotic foods. Probiotics help to break down sugars and starches for easier digestion, and the prebiotics serve as the energy that allows them to do their job in our bodies. Without prebiotic fibers, probiotics would starve and eventually die.
"One of the ideas the pharmaceutical industry pushes on people is that you need to take probiotic pills every day for better gut health. Prebiotic foods make this unnecessary."
Most consumers of probiotics unfortunately are unaware of that fact that probiotic supplements and pills are not meant to thrive in your gut, and it's actually one of the biggest secrets the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry keeps that they don't mention, and a huge misnomer. More time is spent trying to convince people to take probiotic pills, supplements, and foods enriched with probiotics than explaining why the reasons for taking them would be significantly diminished if prebiotics are not consumed in conjunction with the supplements. Prebiotics are the step-children of better gut health; they rarely are talked about or discussed.
Probiotics are marketed to be taken every day, and you would be hard pressed to find any publication not mention that probiotics should be taken every day. But why is that? What happens when you don't consume prebiotics with probiotics? Think about it. If the key to having a strong gut and immune system was by taking a probiotic pill, and that bacteria in the supplement became healthy and prosperous in your belly simply after taking it, then there wouldn't be a need to take anymore pills, right? No more pills means no more money for the industry.
As we've discussed before, the physiological function of a probiotic is simply to break down sugars and starches in the body. When you take a probiotic supplement, the beneficial bacteria that survive, travel around your body looking to consume the sugars and starches. The bacteria inevitably will do one of two things. It will either feast upon those impacted sugars and starches or it will eventually die off for lack of food (i.e. prebiotics) and pass through the body. So ultimately, you will need to take another pill the next day, and the cycle repeats, day after day with the pharmaceutical industry touting the needs to consume more pills. But there has to be a better way, right? There has to be a better way and a higher likelihood of keeping those probiotics alive and propagating within the body. There is, and it's done by consuming prebiotics.
Prebiotics are like the fertilizer for a lush lawn
Imagine a cow, living its life on a farm. If you let them, cows will spend their life searching for the best places in the field with the best grass. The cows, in this example, is a healthy living body, and the grass upon which it feeds are the probiotics. When you give a healthy gut enough probiotics, a body will become happy and prosperous. But in order for the probiotics to populate your intestine and gut and procreate, making more probiotic babies, digestive yeasts and everything else that you may need to have a healthier and better digestive tract, they need prebiotics to do that. Are you beginning to see how important prebiotics are to your digestion?
Now what can you do to grow a nice green and lush lawn in the field? You can do a couple of things to try to get that lawn beautiful in summer time. You can choose to throw grass seed down and water it feverishly in an attempt to get it to grow in the heat. But what if the soil on which you throw the seeds is not healthy? Or how prolific would the grass grow if the ground was filled with hard, solid pieces of dirt? No matter how hard you try, the grass won't be strong and healthy.
But let's say you take a week or so to till or aerate the soil then throw some fertilizer down, then you begin to water. How much more healthy would your grass be? By spending several hours cultivating the soil, you are helping it become more readily to absorb the vitamins and minerals in the fertilizer. And once the large chunks of hard debris and rocks are removed or broken up and carried away, the grass can more easily spread its roots out to grow. Think of prebiotic foods then as the fertilizer. You can certainly have a green lawn without using fertilizer, but how strong will the roots be? Creating a beautiful lawn is summer is exactly how you should think about creating a healthy gut. The grass are the probiotics, the fertilizer is the prebiotics, the soil is your digestive tract, and the large rocks and debris are the bits of undigested foods.
Top 8 Prebiotic Foods
So now that you understand how important prebiotics are for your gut and a healthy digestive system, here are a list of my top sources of prebiotics. These are generally all found either in the produce section of the supermarket or easily available at your neighborhood health food store.
Consuming prebiotic foods is crucial for better gut health, and for many, it's actually more important long term for good and optimal digestion. If you regularly consume probiotic foods like kombucha, kefir, yogurt, or vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi, yet don't also consume a significant amount of prebiotics, then you are doing yourself a disservice. And just as you would do when preparing and planning a healthy landscape, take some time learning about how to begin incorporating prebiotics into your daily diet. Once you begin to consume them, you're gut health will improve and become strong, vibrant, and healthy, just like that lawn in summer.
Note: If you want to begin to incorporate prebiotic foods into your diet and want an indepth resource that includes over 70 recipes of fermented foods and prebiotic foods, you can download the free list I compiled here.
Jared Toay is a master fermenter who has a passion for making fermented foods, probiotic drinks, probiotic-filled foods, and gut-healthy snacks. If you want a list of his 73 fermented foods recipe to include in your own family's diet, you can download it free by clicking here: http://bit.ly/73Ferments
“Because probiotics sound so much better than bacteria infested"
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I am just someone who likes to talk about probiotics, kombucha, and is obsessively passionate about gut health and digestion, My personal mission is to try to ferment just about anything food related. This blog is a continuous flow of those thoughts on that journey.