How to Improve Digestive Health: The Probiotic/Prebiotic Link

Probiotics are good microorganisms, usually good bacteria, that are similar to the helpful bacteria found in the human intestinal tract. These live active bacteria help regulate digestion and improve the health of the person who ingests them. These microorganisms can be found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, or in fermented dairy products including yogurt, buttermilk, and kefir. It is recommended that people who have been on antibiotics or who have digestive upset should take in some form of probiotics from either food or supplements to help replenish their own natural bacteria.

Yogurt is probably the most commonly eaten probiotic food. It provides calcium to help build strong bones which prevents osteoporosis. Yogurt can also help strengthen the immune system and prevent vaginal yeast infections in women. Studies also show that low fat yogurt may lower LDL “bad” cholesterol and raise HDL “good” cholesterol. It also provides protein that can help fill you up. Greek yogurt is especially good for this. It has twice the amount of protein than regular yogurt. When buying any type of yogurt, choose one that is low in fat, low in sugar and contains live active cultures.

Kefir is another commonly known probiotic drink. It is a milk drink that Kefir grains have been added and then fermented. Kefir is usually used in a smoothie with added ingredients, such as sugar, since plain Kefir is often very sour. Its probiotic effect is similar to that of yogurt, helping to reduce cholesterol (especially if it contains plant stanols) and may also help reduce blood pressure. However, kefir contains different live active cultures than yogurt and may have a better probiotic effect than yogurt. Eating a variety of low fat dairy products will help ensure you get all the health benefits of these different foods.

Prebiotics are the indigestible part of fruits, vegetables and whole grains that can stimulate the growth and activity of good bacteria in the digestive tract. Effective prebiotics are essentially soluble fiber- the type of fiber that dissolves in the blood– from plants that become food for the helpful bacteria needed for healthy digestion. Insoluble fiber – the type that does not dissolve in the blood– also has some prebiotic affects. However, insoluble fiber is not as efficient as soluble fiber at feeding the healthy microorganisms in our bodies. Inulin is a type of prebiotic that is found in some root vegetables such as chicory root. It is added to some foods including yogurt to increase the prebiotic/probiotic interaction. This reaction is called synbiotics. When synbiotics occurs, prebiotics and probiotics are working together to improve the natural microflora in the digestive tract. The digestive system is considered to be at the peak of health and overall health of the body increases.

Some food sources for prebiotics are inulin from root plants, raw oats, unrefined wheat, barley, rye, chicory root, onion, garlic, leeks, flaxseed, dark leafy greens such as spinach, legumes including lentils and red kidney beans, berries, bananas and many other fruits. A person should prefer a probiotic supplement in the breakfast as it will keep the health of the person good. Along with fruits, some raw vegetables can be eaten at early morning.

Eating a balanced diet of these foods plus a cup of yogurt or kefir is all the body needs to obtain synbiotics. Also try eating fresh blueberries with a cup of vanilla or Greek yogurt to get the prebiotics/probiotics necessary for optimal digestive health.