If you haven’t heard the word “probiotics” you’ve probably been living under a rock. The wellness industry’s going crazy for the microscopic good bacteria, and there’s no shortage of health bloggers and influencers ingesting as many as possible with the hope of improved gut health, clear skin, and a stronger immune system. In fact, sales of probiotic supplements are estimated to hit $44.9 billion around the world by 2018, according to a report by Albany, New York-based Transparency Market Research.
However, little regard is given to the just-as-important, but way underrated prebiotics, which are essential to the survival of probiotics in your gut. We asked dietitian and author Rebecca Scritchfield MA, RDN, HFS just how important they are – and her answers blew us away. Basically, without them, probiotics are almost useless. Keep scrolling to see what she shared.
Probiotics are living beneficial bacteria in our gut, while prebiotics are “food” for probiotics. Together they make up what is referred to as the gut microbiome. “There is much chatter about probiotics, which are found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir and kimchi, but it’s essential to feed these probiotics with prebiotics,” explained Scritchfield, adding: “I’m always educating my clients to consume probiotic food sources, but not to forget to feed them with prebiotics, otherwise the beneficial probiotics will just die.”
Prebiotics are a form of “resistant starches,” Scritchfield said. You can find them in whole grains, potatoes, lentils/pulses, kiwifruit, banana, rice, beans, asparagus, avocado, onions, garlic. Our bodies actually can’t break down this part of the food, until they come into contact with probiotics. “These starches travel through the stomach and small intestine undigested. Once they reach the small intestine, the probiotics (beneficial bacteria) digest through fermentation as their food source,” Scritchfield explained.
Basically, any health benefits you would normally link with probiotics can also be attributed to prebiotics, because of the relationship between the two. They are important for warding off illness: “Scientists believe the health of your colon can offer a window to the health of your body, and there’s evidence that the type and amount of bacteria growing in your gut can impact everything from your immunity to your mood,” Scritchfield told us, explaining that gut health can impact your entire body. “More than 60 percent of our immune cells call the digestive system home. The gut has its own nervous system too, dubbed the second brain, with more than a million nerve cells.”
There’s also a new idea that the gut microbiome could even impact a person’s mood, and Scritchfield told us that “Up to 95 percent of people with [irritable bowl syndrome] struggle with depression or other mood disorders.”
“How much should I be eating?” is actually a very loaded question when it comes to prebiotics. Scritchfield is adamant that people shouldn’t be taking a prebiotic supplement, but rather get their fill from the diet first. She suggests eating more “raw asparagus, cooked onions, bananas, and kiwifruit” with your meals and snacks to get your daily fix.