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Prebiotics, Probiotics and Postbiotics, Oh My!

Healthy and balanced microbes in our bodies, especially a healthy gut, are important for optimal immune function. We now know that this is both due to the actual microbial community and how they interact with our bodies, and also the various molecules they make as part of their metabolic processes that then our bodies use. We can help these “friends” by eating a variety of plants that contain fiber and other prebiotic nutrients. Prebiotics are the food that these helpful bacteria like to “eat.” These microbes need food to make energy. They do this by the process of fermentation. Plants have two types of fiber. They are indigestible to us as humans, but the microbes in our body love them! Insoluble fiber does not dissolve, but it attracts water into your stool, making it softer and easier to pass and promotes regularity. Soluble fiber dissolves making a kind of gel that the gut microbial community likes to munch on. Soluble fiber is what promotes fermentation. They also thrive with other nutrients as well. Besides fiber, other prebiotics in food are fructans, galactooligosaccharides, resistant starches, polyphenols and flavonols.

The Top Prebiotic Foods

Asparagus Bananas Barely Beans Sugar beets Chicory Garlic Honey Milk Onions Peas

Rye Seaweeds and algae Soybeans Sunchokes Tomatoes Whole grain wheat

Probiotics are the actual healthy microbes. They are found in fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kombucha and tempeh. They are also found in the soil. Consuming probiotics have been shown to have health benefits like prevention of diarrhea, improving depression symptoms, improving eczema and improving IBS symptoms.

Postbiotics are basically what is produced when the probiotics eat the prebiotics. These breakdown products have positive health benefits including helping the immune system, lowering inflammation, acting as anti-oxidants and having anti-cancer properties. Short chain fatty acids like butyrate are examples of postbiotics. Scientists are still discovering more about postbiotics, but new research suggests that higher short chain fatty acid levels have been linked to the prevention of chronic disease. Infants that had the highest levels of short chain fatty acids in their stool at 1 year had significantly less risk of developing eczema, food allergy or asthma by age six. Other benefits may include balancing blood sugar, reducing the risk of colon cancer and balancing cholesterol levels.

To support these healthy friends in our gut, eat plenty of those prebiotic plant foods they thrive on. You aren’t just eating for 1 or 2 (if you are pregnant), you are eating for 100 trillion!

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