Without bacteria, without intestinal biodiversity, we do not function properly. It is a very simple concept: our body needs to strengthen the good bacteria in the body to be able to deal with those that weaken it. Intestinal microorganisms regulate our immune system. If it works well, we are able to fight infections and diseases, if not, no.
To get the right balance of bacteria, you need to eat foods that feed the bacteria in your gut or eat foods that add bacteria to your gut. Feeding existing microbes requires prebiotics, while adding new microbes requires probiotics.
Prebiotics: The Gut Fertilizer
Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers. They are dense carbohydrates that the body cannot digest, so they become food for bacteria in the gut.
There are long lists of prebiotic foods: vegetables and fruits that contain a large amount of fiber and complex carbohydrates contain prebiotics, such as deep green leafy vegetables such as spinach, artichokes, asparagus and nopal, others such as onions, garlic, fruits such as bananas, apples and blueberries, whole grains such as oats, legumes such as black or red beans, seeds such as flaxseed and chia, as well as cocoa, among other products.
If you’ve ever planted your favorite flower or made even the slightest attempt at growing it at home, you know that for a plant to grow beautiful and healthy, it needs good soil, water, and fertilizer. Well, something similar happens inside us, so that those microorganisms that live there are nourished and develop healthily. Prebiotics are those foods that are not digestible and pass through the digestive system to “nourish” our intestinal flora and by working together with probiotics they increase their positive effects on the microbiome and, therefore, on health in general.
Probiotics are different in that they contain live organisms, usually specific strains of bacteria that add directly to the population of healthy microbes in the gut.
Just like prebiotics, you can take both probiotics through food. Probably the most common probiotic food is yogurt, since it is obtained by fermenting milk with different bacteria that remain in the final product. Other bacteria-fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi, are also good sources of probiotics.
To maintain a healthy gut you need to eat the right foods. Until the complex relationship between gut health and overall health is better understood, here are additional steps to take:
- Eat slower: Chewing well before swallowing prevents you from swallowing air and improves digestion.
- Eat smaller meals: this promotes digestion and avoids overfilling the stomach, which can cause reflux.
- Eat dinner early: Your GI tract works best in the morning and throughout the day.
- Control stress: learn some relaxation techniques, since digestion is more difficult when you are stressed.
- Have a routine: Eating at regular times has been shown to improve digestion.
- Exercise more: this helps maintain a healthy weight and avoid digestive problems.
- Sleep more: Obesity is related to lack of sleep and obesity leads to digestive problems.
- Probiotics: The Wonder Microorganisms
So you know, prebiotics and probiotics are important and work in synergy to keep our microbiota healthy, which takes care of so many tasks for the benefit of our total well-being.
Remember, there are two ways to maintain this balance: help the microbes that are already there grow by giving them the foods they like (prebiotics), and add live microbes directly to your system (probiotics).