What Are Probiotics and Prebiotic? & Healthy Foods

Probiotics, such as acidophilus, are defined as microorganisms that are beneficial for the human host.

The digestive tract is home to trillions of microorganisms; some of these are beneficial. Some are harmful, and some are neutral.

The term ‘probiotics’ describes the beneficial microorganisms which, amongst other actions, help to crowd out harmful bacteria in order to keep us healthy.

This is important because more than 70% of the body’s immune defences are thought to be based in the gut.

Probiotic species Bacillus subtilis, Lactococcus lactis and Bifidobacterium breve.

A healthy balance of probiotics in the gut is important for good digestion, immunity, & energy levels.

What do probiotics do?

Probiotics support digestive health by producing specific enzymes needed in the digestion of food and aiding the break down of foods substances.

Probiotics also improve the absorption of vitamins & minerals into the bloodstream. And even produce B complex vitamins & vitamin K.

They support immunity by stimulating the body’s natural defences. And by lining the intestines with a protective layer of friendly bacteria that bars pathogenic substances in the gut from harming the body.

As two-thirds of the body’s immune system is managed in the gut, it may be important to keep one’s probiotic levels high.

Prebiotics are a source of food for probiotics to grow, multiply and survive in the gut.

Prebiotics are fibres which cannot be absorbed or broken down by the body and therefore serve as a great food source for probiotics, in particular the Bifidobacteria genus, to increase in numbers.

The most common definition of prebiotics is: non-digestible food ingredients that beneficially affect the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, which can improve host health.

Prebiotics in food

Prebiotics occur naturally in our diet and prebiotic fibres can be found in Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, chicory, and onions amongst other things.

One may have to eat large quantities of these foods to have a ‘bifidogenic’ effect – that is to increase the levels of friendly bacteria in our intestines.

For this reason many people find it easier to take a prebiotic supplement.

Or a combination probiotic and prebiotic supplement (called a synbiotic) to ensure they are feeding their levels of friendly bacteria.

Research shows that there are different types of prebiotics, in a similar manner as there are different types of probiotics.

With prebiotics, the key differentiating factor is the length of the chemical chain – short chain; medium chain or long chain determines where in the gastrointestinal tract the prebiotic has its effect, and how the benefits may be felt by the host.

Common prebiotics include: inulin, Fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), lactulose and lafinose.

Probiotic Foods

Active-Culture Yogurt

An explosion of yogurt brands has taken over the dairy section lately, but you have to be careful about which brands to buy; many of them—both Greek and regular—are loaded with added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavors.

Read your labels.

For people sensitive to dairy, coconut yogurt is an excellent dairy-free way to work plenty of enzymes and probiotics into your diet.

Kefir

The name Kefir is derived from the Turkish word keyif which means “feeling good” after consumption. 

This fermented dairy product is very similar to yogurt. It is a unique combination of kefir “grains” (a combination of yeast and bacteria) and goat’s milk that’s high in lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. It’s also rich in antioxidants.

For those who are sensitive to dairy or lactose intolerant, coconut kefir, a non-dairy version, is also delicious and equally beneficial.

Kombucha Tea

This is a form of fermented black or green tea that has been used for centuries.

Fizzy and often served chilled, it’s also believed to help increase energy, and may even help you lose weight.

Tempeh

Many people, especially vegetarians, eat tempeh as a substitute for meat. Tempeh is fermented soybeans and a complete protein, with all of the amino acids.

Also a great source of vitamin B12, tempeh can be cooked or crumbled over salads.

*Note: Not to be confused with unfermented soy. The fermentation process reduces the levels of phytic acid in tempeh, making it a much better option.

Overall, I am not a huge fan of any soy derived product. But for vegetarians, this is an option.

Kimchi

A traditional Korean dish, this is a mixture of fermented vegetables and seasonings.

Common ingredients include cabbage, brine, radish and spices such as ginger and chili pepper.

In addition to providing beneficial bacteria, kimchi is also a great source of calcium, iron, beta-carotene, and vitamins A, C, B1, and B2.

For some it may be a little too spicy, but it’s one of the best probiotic foods you can add to your diet if you can handle the heat.

Sauerkraut

A german word, Sauerkraut translates to “sour cabbage.” Not only does this fermented cabbage fuel healthy gut bacteria but it contains choline, a chemical needed for the proper transmission of nerve impulses in the brain and throughout the central nervous system.

Pickles

No wonder many pregnant women crave pickles, among the most basic and beloved natural probiotic.

For many, pickles can be your gateway food to other, more exotic fermented foods.

Pickled fruits and vegetables

Pickling fruits and veggies, such as carrot sticks, transforms the usual into the extraordinary. Whether you do this yourself or buy pickled produce.

Keep in mind that the probiotic benefits are only present in unpasteurized foods pickled in brine, not vinegar.

Cultured condiments

Believe it or not, you can create lacto-fermented mayonnaise, mustard, horseradish, hot sauce, relish, salsa, guacamole, salad dressing, and fruit chutney.

Sour cream, while technically a fermented dairy product, tends to lose its probiotic power during processing.

Some manufacturers, however, add live cultures at the end of the process; look for these brands.

Prebiotic Foods

Acacia gum (or gum Arabic)

To reap the benefits of Acacia gum, you can buy acacia powder and mix it with water.

Just 1 tablespoon will give you 6 grams of insoluble prebiotic fiber—the kind of fiber the gut bugs love for their own nourishment.

Raw chicory root

I use chicory root when cooking, as it is an excellent source of antioxidants, as well as a terrific system cleanser.

Most of my chicory consumption comes via kimchi, as it’s an ingredient I use when making kimchi at home.

Raw Jerusalem artichoke

Jerusalem artichoke, which you might know better as sunroot, is actually a species of sunflower loaded with nutrients and health benefits.

Specifically, besides being a great prebiotic, Jerusalem artichoke is rich in potassium and iron. During the week, I enjoy Jerusalem artichoke in salads.

Raw dandelion greens

Dandelion greens are a rich source of prebiotics. Buy a bunch of these greens for the week and add them to salads and vegetable dishes.

Raw garlic

There are myriad health benefits to be derived from garlic, and the fact that raw garlic is packed with prebiotics is just one of them.

 Lots of recipes here on my website to help you sort out how to make sure you get some in every day.

Raw or cooked onion

Just like garlic, onions are another vegetable you might be consuming every day without realizing just how powerful it is for your health. In both raw and cooked form, onions carry a strong prebiotic load.

Raw leek

Leeks are a subtle way to add not just flavor, but nutrition to any meal you are making. It’s a prebiotic powerhouse you can work into almost every dish.