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Which Option Is Better For My Gut Health: Prebiotics Versus Probiotics

The digestive system is also called the second brain. It is a sophisticated system, and it needs regular care to function. Your gut thrives when you are active, eating an excellent diet, and managing your stress. But what can you do when things start to feel a little funky downstairs? Do you take a prebiotic or eat more probiotic-rich foods? What’s the difference, and which will be the most beneficial to your gut health.

 What is a probiotic?

Probiotics are health-promoting bacteria that live in your gut. Billions of bacteria work hard to ensure your daily digestion remains optimized. These bacteria are delicate, and they can die off. You may have symptoms of bloating, change in bathroom habits, and gas.

Your first instinct may be to grab a fermented food that is rich in natural bacteria. Popular options include kombucha (a fermented tea), kefir products, or sauerkraut. Unfortunately, these food options will not replenish your gut bacteria. You will have better results if you add a probiotic supplement to your routine. Afterward, you should maintain your gut health by including fermented foods.

What is a prebiotic?

Prebiotics are very important for your gut health but they are not advertised as much. Prebiotics are food sources that nourish probiotics. Increasing the nourishment in the gut will increase the number of healthy bacteria.

Prebiotics are available in the diet through fiber. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that plays a vital role in digestive health. Bacteria in your gut eat break down fiber and use it as fuel to thrive. Food sources of fiber include nuts, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Aim to have a variety of fiber-rich foods across your snacks and meals for the day.

How to know if I need a prebiotic or a probiotic?

The best way to know which option will be the most impactful for your health is to complete a food diary. Track your intake for two weeks and assess your intake of fiber-rich foods. Are you eating 30-35g of fiber per day? If not, you may try to bump up your fiber and then reassess how your gut feels.

If your fiber intake is excellent then it’s time to consider a probiotic. There are hundreds of options on the market and they all contain unique strains of bacteria. You will need to take the correct strain that targets your symptoms. It can feel overwhelming to try and figure out which probiotic is the right option for you. Contact a Registered Dietitian or a Pharmacist to review appropriate options.

Can I do both options at the same time?

Yes, you can take probiotic supplements and increase your prebiotics at the same time. Your gut bacteria need plenty of food to thrive! Increase your daily fiber intake slowly. Include an extra glass of water to reduce the risk of constipation. Your digestive system will need adequate time to adapt and it is unlikely changes will happen overnight.

What can I do to maintain my gut bacteria long-term?

You should not rely on a probiotic supplement for the rest of your life. They will help you get back to normal, but you should maintain a healthy gut through lifestyle and diet. Remain active, and stay on top of your stress levels. Cut back soda pop, sweetened products (like flavored yogurts), and other refined products.

Consider making your kombucha at home. This fermented beverage is rich in bacteria. If you create the batch at home you have full control over the flavor. There are several kits you can buy online to start your brew at home.

Here are some options:

Image credit: Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Julia Zakrzewski

Julia Zakrzewski is a Registered Dietitian and a lifelong foodie. Her passions include eating great food, debunking nutrition myths, and educating people on how they can improve their health! Her specific interests include diabetes and cardiovascular health. In her spare time Julia teaches yoga, and walks her miniature schnauzer.

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