Gut health is all the rage at the moment, and for good reason. Especially with food items like kombucha, kimchi and sourdough bread becoming increasingly popular. A healthy gut is said to boost our immune system, help us maintain a healthy weight and even improve our mood. Plus, there are the obvious benefits of reduced bloating and a smoother digestive process too.
But what does it really take to keep our guts happy? We asked the experts to give clarity on the difference between probiotics and prebiotics, important role players in gut health…
Nutritionist Rob Hobson explains why our microbiome matters:
“Bacteria exist in and around our body and are referred to as the microbiome. The diversity of bacteria in it is personal to each individual and most reside in the gut, forming a defensive barrier against foreign invaders that are harmful to our health.
Taking a daily probiotic supplement is a good way to maintain beneficial bacteria in our gut. We should also be eating a range of healthy, unprocessed foods,” he says.
Probiotics vs prebiotics: what is the difference?
Many of us are familiar with probiotics, even if we don’t know exactly what they do. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are still relatively new to most people.
In layman’s terms, probiotics and prebiotics are partners in gut health and work together to keep our gut happy.
What do probiotics do?
Mostly referred to as ‘good’ or ‘beneficial’ bacteria, probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts – strains of which have been shown to have a number of benefits.
They help to maintain good digestion and can help with diarrhoea and constipation. Probiotics also have a positive impact on conditions that can affect the digestive system such as Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS) and lactose intolerance.
What do prebiotics do?
Prebiotics are types of dietary fibre that the body can’t digest and act as a ‘fertiliser’ for probiotics in the gut, encouraging them to flourish.
ALSO SEE: 8 Tips To Improve Your Gut Health
Probiotics and prebiotics: how do we get them into our diets?
In addition to supplements, probiotics can also be found in a number of foods.
“All probiotic foods will be found in the fridge section of your supermarket and come in a huge range of forms and base ingredients,” says nutritionist Libby Limon.
“Apart from natural yoghurt, there are many other probiotic foods, including fermented foods such as kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi and miso.”
If you want to consume more prebiotics, look for:
Prebiotic fibre is found in foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, bananas, asparagus, oats and barley. Starchy foods that have been cooked and then cooled, such as potatoes, rice and pasta, form resistant starches that also act as prebiotics.
If you want to consume more prebiotics, look for:
- Cooled starchy foods like potatoes, rice and pasta
ALSO SEE: How To Make Overnight Oats
What hinders your microbiome?
“A poor diet which is low in fresh fruit and vegetables can disrupt our microbiome. As can smoking, alcohol, caffeine, stress and certain medications – especially antibiotics,” says Libby.
What about FODMAPS?
“Foods like onions, garlic, cauliflower, broccoli, beans, lentils and stoned fruit all contain FODMAPS . This is an acronym for fructose, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols; a group of sugars that are difficult for humans to digest but which our bacteria ferment easily,” says Libby.
What you should know about probiotic supplements
Both experts agree we should be looking for probiotic supplements that contain at least 10 million bacteria per serving and include proven live strains.
One of the most common probiotics found naturally as bacteria in fermented foods such as yoghurt. It can help with everything from urinary tract infections (UTIs) to eczema.
A key function of this type of bacteria is to digest fibre and other complex carbs your body can’t digest on its own. They are also important for keeping gut flora balance healthy, preventing infection and producing B vitamins and fatty acids that the body needs.
Akkermansia has been linked to stronger immunity and lower levels are linked to obesity and poor blood-sugar balance. Polyphenols found in foods such as grapes and cranberries may help increase the levels of this bacteria.
When to take probiotics
Rob advises that probiotics should be taken before breakfast with a glass of water, as this is when probiotics have the greatest chance of surviving the acidic conditions of the gut.
He also suggests not taking it with hot food and drinks as this can destroy the bacteria before it reaches the gut.
“Wait 30 minutes after taking them before you reach for a hot drink,” Rob suggests.
Our top pre- and probiotic picks:
Ever wished you knew exactly what was going on in your microbiome? The Viome test kit can help you answer that question.
Completing the test will also equip you with a list of foods and supplements that will help you have a thriving microbiome.
Ultra 4 Probiotic helps improve your immunity and general health. It also assists with candida control, flora balance, constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, flatulence, stomach cramps, and indigestion. R184,95 for 30, Wellness Warehouse.
Hyperbiotics Prebiotic is an organic blend of prebiotics that helps nurture and get your gut microflora growing. Add it to any smoothie, cup of coffee or sprinkle over oatmeal. R795 for 375g, Faithful to Nature.
Person of faith. Features writer. Lover of baked goods (Mary Berry is one of her heroes). A curator of really great Pinterest boards. She also loves to stay up to date with the latest health trends. If she was lost you’d probably find her perusing the cookbook aisles of Exclusive Books, sipping on a cortado.