It's hard to miss the probiotic trend in the food industry these days. Probiotics are good bacteria that aid in the balance of our digestive tract. These microorganisms aid in digestion and support our immune system. They can help prevent intestinal upset and aid in the treatment of certain infections. In fact, if you've recently taken antibiotics, you've likely wiped out your good bacteria. Probiotics will help replenish your bacteria stash and get you back to your old self.
These good bacteria are found in many packaged foods (everything from chocolate to protein bars to ice cream), but are naturally occurring in yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, and tempeh, to name a few. Notice that each of these foods is a fermented product. Fermentation is the result of active bacteria growth. To cause fermentation, bacteria is introduced to the food. This bacteria converts the foods sugars to acid, gas, or alcohol. When ingesting these fermented foods, you add a live organism (more like millions of live organisms) into your digestive system. These organisms work to breakdown foods in your body and out-compete the bad bacteria that make us sick.
Probiotics are awesome, but they can't work alone. That takes us to prebiotics. Prebiotics are the food that probiotics need in order to survive and get busy in your body. It makes sense, in order to out-compete the bad bacteria and thrive, these good bacteria need some fuel. Just like you combine sugar and water with yeast to activate it in order for your dough to rise, you need some kind of sugar to get these probiotics charging.
Not all sugars are created equal, however, so don't grab a doughnut and think you're helping out your kombucha with some fuel. The best prebiotics are whole grains, legumes, and fruit, but other foods high in fiber are also good prebiotics. Fiber is key because it is the "waste" from your food that sticks around in your digestive system. This waste product is exactly what the bacteria need to thrive. Any food without fiber won't offer up much of use to the good fauna in your system.
Here are some great ways to combine prebiotics and probiotics for a healthy, happy digestive system.
- Muesli and Yogurt: The ultimate in a healthy breakfast or snack. Pick yogurt that lists either Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium in the ingredient list as a live culture. Choose a plain or vanilla flavor that is low in sugar for the most nutritious choice. Muesli is unsweetened, but contains dried fruit that will add a nice sweetness to your meal. The whole grains provide the prebiotic fiber and the nuts and seeds will give you an extra omega-3 bonus.
- Brown Rice and Tempeh: Combine a whole grain brown rice with tempeh for a one-two prebiotic/probiotic punch. Add vegetables sauteed in olive oil for a heart-healthy complete meal.
- Whole Grain Crackers with Yogurt Dressing/Dip: Replace sour cream in your favorite dressing or dip with a probiotic-packed yogurt and pair with whole grain crackers, bread or even drizzle over a whole grain salad. Try this Creamy Avocado Yogurt Dressing from Mother Thyme and these Savory Hemp Crackers for a wonderful Omega 3-rich snack.