Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Antibiotics, oh my!

Chances are, you’ve heard of these trendy little guys called prebiotics and probiotics at some point or another – possibly at a yoga class or a juice bar. Yes, they are good for you and yes you should try to incorporate them into your diet. But did you ever stop to wonder what all the fuss is about? And what about antibiotics? Are those good, too? Well folks, it’s gut health. And a glamorous topic such as gut health deserves center stage.

Let’s start with the facts. There is microflora that lines our digestive tract that helps prevent the spread of infections and bacteria. It basically acts as a barrier to the gut, fighting off infection and maintaining balance in the digestive tract. Key takeaway here? We like this bacteria. We need this bacteria. So treat it well, ya dig?

Probiotics:

  • Claim to Fame: Probiotics are live cultures or “good bacteria”  in foods, which help keep your digestion in check and provide other numerous health benefits. By eating probiotics from food, you are helping build that gut microflora to fight off infections.
  • Where do I find them?  They’re a little tricky to spot at first, until you know what you’re looking for. Probiotics will not be highlighted on a nutrition facts panel (although kudos to you for reading the labels – keep it up!). Sometimes you’ll see them listed as live/active cultures, but as a rule of thumb, they can be found in yogurts or other foods that are naturally fermented. Things like sauerkraut, miso soup, soft cheeses (like gouda), tempeh, kefir and kombuchas, and even sourdough bread.

Prebiotics:

  • Claim to Fame: Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that help promote the growth of healthy or “good” bacteria already in the gut. The microflora in your gut feeds off prebiotics to grow. Basically probiotics’ hype girl.
  • Where do I find them? Unlike probiotics, these suckers are found in fibers of plants only (vegetables, fruits, and legumes). Major sources include garlic, bananas,  artichokes, asparagus, onions, leeks, soybeans, and whole wheat products.

Probiotics and prebiotics are the ultimate power couple. Think Johnny & Jude, Danny & Sandy, Barack & Michelle. Powerful alone, no doubt, but they really shine when they’re together! Try some of my favorite probiotic & prebiotic combos, like: sourdough bread & hummus, whole wheat crackers & gouda cheese, or a fruit smoothie with banana & yogurt.

Antibiotics: 

  • Claim to Fame: When all else fails and you are already sick, these suckers help nurse you back to health by fighting off infection or “bad bacteria” in your body. While they certainly do the trick in making you feel better, they often times end up stripping us of that “good bacteria” as well in their efforts to fight infection.
  • Where do I find them? You guessed it – doctor’s orders only. These are a treatment method rather than prevention, used when you already have the bug. To prevent sickness, focus on building up that good bacteria, practicing good hygiene, vitamin C… all that good stuff your mom taught you when you were a kid. Say it with me now: Mama Knows Best!

Bottom Line: Probiotics and prebiotics are important for good gut health, and may be linked to other health benefits outside of digestion. Antibiotics are important to nurse you back to health when you’re sick, but should not be used as a preventative measure. Eating probiotics and prebiotics can help contribute to a balanced diet and healthier gut. So eat on, friends. Gouda cheese is calling your name!

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