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The difference between pre and probiotics

The difference between pre and probiotics, and how to include them in my diet? 

The concept of gut health has been gaining enormous traction over the last few years (and rightfully so). We have only started to uncover the immense complexity that is the microbiome, and many people now claim to have the secret recipe to heal your “leaky gut”. Although the intentions are good, it’s important to understand that nobody has all the answers to how exactly our gut bacteria impacts our health, but we do know that it plays a huge part in digestive health, inflammation levels in the body, prevalence of disease, and now has even to show a huge part in neurological health.

So given the importance in prioritizing your gut health, and the complete lack of clarity on the subject, what is the best and easiest way to address the issue? The answer first lies in understanding the difference between prebiotics and probiotics. Your microbiome is composed of millions upon millions of bacteria. There are good bacteria and bad bacteria, and the overall health of your gut will determine on which strains of bacteria are more prevalent in your system. The good bacteria can be called probiotics, and this is what has become popular in the health industry whether through supplementation or through foods (fermented fruits and vegetables, coconut yogurt, kombucha, etc.) Supplementation of probiotics has shown some benefits, however it is yet to be determined if the bacteria ingested actually can bypass digestion and have a positive impact on your microbiome. There also in an issue with taking the right strains, as certain individuals might already have enough of said strain from the supplement, and need other strains that aren’t available (this could only be determined through more advanced testing). Prebiotics on the other hand, are fibrous compounds found in food that induce the growth or activity of beneficial bacteria and fungi in the microbiome. More simply put, prebiotics are the food that your beneficial bacteria rely on the eat and grow. An individual introducing probiotics through supplementation or through food sources, that has an unhealthy environment, will not be able to foster these bacteria and help them strive. Think about the probiotics as plants, and the prebiotics as the soil. You can put all the plants you want in your garden, but you’ll never be successful without the right soil to help them grow.

So now that we know the difference, what is the easiest way to increase our intake of prebiotics, and after probiotics?

I recommend the prebiotics first to create a healthy ecosystem for the bacteria. Some well known sources for prebiotics include onions, garlic, blueberries, chicory, Savoy cabbage, lentils, green bananas and many more. Another good source (and interesting hack that I learned) is to cook and cool your white rice or white potatoes with a small amount of fat (coconut oil, butter). After cooling for 24 hours or more, you will create a resistant starch that will provide a huge boost to your gut while also lowering the glycemic load of the starch which will lessen the blood sugar spike as well as keep you fuller for longer.

For probiotics, the best way to consume the most diverse array of bacteria that could benefit your microbiome is through a variety of probiotic foods. Coconut kefir, coconut yogurt, kombucha (fermented tea), fermented vegetables like kimchi or sauerkraut, and even some fermented fruit are all good sources of probiotics that can contribute to a healthy gut. If you are looking to supplement with specific probiotic strains, please consult with a naturopathic practitioner that will be able to assess your personal needs and make the best recommendation.