Parents Want to Know: What’s the Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics?
When it comes to your body, there are a plethora of things you can do to help maintain your health and be your best self. But in an age where a healthy lifestyle is touted with diets and supplements, it can be difficult to focus on what’s most important. Consider your gut health for a moment. You may be surprised to learn that your digestive system and the state of your gut health can affect your quality of life. The various systems in your body have different needs, but they work together symbiotically. By maintaining the balance of bacteria in your gut (yes, bacteria!), you can improve your digestive health, decrease your risk of certain diseases, and improve your overall physical and mental health. Today, we’ll explore prebiotics and probiotics–the basis for a healthy gut–and share how to preserve an equilibrium for better digestive health.
What are Prebiotics?
Your body is composed of many microorganisms, or microbes, like good and bad bacteria that live in different bodily systems, including your intestines. These tiny critters are crucial to your health and functioning. In simpler terms, prebiotics are the ‘food’ for those microbes living in your gut. Microbes receive nutrients and survival energy from prebiotics, which help them grow and maintain the bacteria balance in your gut, in turn keeping you healthier.
Prebiotics naturally exist in various foods, common in foods that contain fiber and complex carbohydrates. These indigestible carbs pass through your body to become a kind of fertilizer food for bacteria and other microbes. A wide range of foods contain prebiotics naturally. Some of these food sources include:
- Chicory root
Many prebiotic supplements also exist as an addition or alternative to natural sources.
Benefits of Prebiotics
Prebiotics not only affect the gastrointestinal tract, but also other organs and systems in the body. Their benefits range from aiding in calcium absorption, water retention and collagen formation, to improving general cognition, recall and memory, and mood. They can also even lower your risk of colorectal cancer and decrease symptoms of IBS and Crohn’s Disease.
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics are one of the good types of bacteria that help support your immune function. These live organisms or microbes live in your digestive tract and are what restore balance in your body, helping you digest food, control inflammation, balance out the harmful bacteria that make you sick, create vitamins, and more.
Probiotics occur naturally in the body and eating a well-balanced diet helps maintain the number of helpful bacteria. You can increase your probiotics levels by taking them in supplement form or finding them naturally, especially in fermented foods. Some great probiotic food sources include:
- Sourdough bread
- Cottage cheese
- Miso soup
Benefits of Probiotics
Though they are tiny organisms, probiotics do a lot for our bodies, even helping with the treatment of some medical conditions. Increasing your probiotic levels can help with constipation, symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome, yeast infections, lactose intolerance, and more. Probiotics restore balance in your body, supporting your cells, immune function, and digestion.
Adjusting your diet
The balance of healthy bacteria in your gut has a bigger impact on you than you may think. Gut health can affect your heart, kidneys, and even your brain. The good news is, adding prebiotics and probiotics to your diet is easy thanks to the many foods that naturally contain them. Adding some yogurt and honey to your breakfast cereal, switching out your sweet tea for kombucha, and choosing sourdough over other types of bread are just a few simple (and yummy) adjustments to make to your diet.
If you’re considering adding more prebiotics and probiotics to your diet, it’s a good idea to speak to a healthcare professional beforehand. These compounds have numerous health benefits but they may trigger allergic reactions, and can be a risk for people with weakened immune systems, serious illness, or people who have had surgery recently. If you choose to take supplements, they can interact with medications you are taking, so be sure to consult a professional as well before adding them to your diet.
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