Prebiotics and probiotics have been a hot health topic for a few years now, and it’s only getting hotter as researchers learn more about their potential capabilities.
There are plenty of commercials on TV and ads online for supplements and foods that promise to deliver you the bacteria you need to live a healthy and happy life.
But like anything else, the hype around probiotics and prebiotics often sounds too good to be true. So here is what you need to know.
Your large intestine contains 100 trillion “good” bacteria that play a central role in your health. Collectively, they are known as your microbiome, and they help maintain regular bowel function and may even help with conditions like inflammatory bowel disease.
There is also evidence they may play a role in mood, weight, immunity, and more.
Everybody is born with a unique microbiome, which can be altered throughout life based on the foods you choose.
Here are some of the best ways to add healthy bacteria to your gut.
Eating yogurt and kefir can help promote the growth of healthful bacteria in your microbiome. Just make sure you see the phrase “live active cultures” on the label.
Fermented foods are also a great way to boost healthful microbial diversity. Beneficial microbes create some familiar foods. For example, they turn cabbage into sauerkraut, cucumbers into sour pickles, soybeans into miso, and sweetened tea into kombucha.
The thing is, not all of these foods will feature live microbes. The microbes are dead if the foods have been pasteurized, as most packaged fermented foods are. To avoid this, buy from delis that do the pickling themselves or from health food stores. You can also pickle foods yourself.
There are also a ton of supplements on the market. These usually feature a few bacteria strains, compared with the 3,000 or so that could be in your gut. Specific bacteria play specific roles in the body, so if you’re looking to treat a specific condition, pay attention to what you might need.
The American Gastroenterological Association released guidelines for the use of probiotics in 2020.
Look for supplements with both Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium for general health.
And, of course, foods can play a role in shaping the microbiome. Foods with insoluble fiber can be helpful and include oats, whole grain products, asparagus, leeks, onion, garlic, sweet potatoes, lentils, beans, and peas.
Limiting sugar, saturated fat, and processed foods is a good idea, too because they can deplete healthy gut bacteria.