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Can prebiotics and probiotics really affect your health?

A healthy gut contains a fantastically diverse population of “friendly” bacteria called the microbiome. These come under frequent attack from antibiotics, bad diet, illness, stress and many other lifestyle choices. In fact, every choice we make can influence our microbiome, for better or worse. It’s been suggested that taking pre or probiotics can support the gut through the everyday, but is this true?

They sound similar, what’s the difference?

Prebiotics are a type of fibre -natural, non-digestible food components that have been linked to promoting the growth of helpful bacteria in our gut.  Food sources of prebiotics include bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, chickpeas, lentils, dried fruits, rye bread, oats, Jerusalem artichokes, beetroot and cashews.

Probiotics are actually the good bacteria or ‘live’ cultures just like those naturally found In your gut.  While there isn’t currently enough evidence to prove a cause and effect relationship between consuming probiotics and a health outcome, it has been suggested that species such as Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria have a generally positive effect on gut physiology and digestive health by creating a more hospitable environment for all the good bacteria living there, repopulating intestinal bacteria to balance the gut flora To obtain more probiotics, you could also try and Include more fermented foods In your diet like yogurt, kefir and aged cheeses which contain the live cultures Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria.

Research has identified several functions of good bacteria, including helping out with the production of fatty acids such as butyrate. The tricky bit is, it’s not always possible to know whether a probiotic has reached the large intestine alive. To make any difference to our microbiome, about a billion probiotic bacteria would need to make it through the digestive system alive, and arrive in the colon intact.

Ultimately, prebiotics (“good” bacteria promoters) and probiotics (“good” bacteria) work together synergistically. In other words, prebiotics are breakfast, lunch and dinner for probiotics, which restores and can improve GI health. One prebiotic that has been scientifically proven to have health-giving effects is chicory inulin, extracted from the root of the chicory plant. The health effects of chicory inulin have been approved by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), specifically its contribution to normal bowel function by increasing stool frequency.

12g of chicory inulin should be consumed each day for a significant result but this 12g can be split into several different servings per day. A 40g serving of fibreful contains 5.2g chicory inulin, which is over 1/3 of the required amount of inulin for a beneficial effect on digestive health.

Up your fibre intake, naturally
There are plenty of ways to increase the fibre in your diet. Like introducing a high-fibre breakfast cereal, opting for whole grain breads or swapping sugary snacks for unpeeled vegetables, fruit and nuts. Just be careful to increase your intake of fibre gradually, so as not to overwhelm your bacteria, which would cause excessive gas and bloating.

We hope this has been helpful! We’ve got plenty more information on everything from fibre to FODMAP on our blog.