Prebiotics and probiotics are beyond buzzy, and for acutely good reason. The health of our entire body, including our brain, hinges on the welfare of our microbiome and happy gut bacteria. In order to maintain that, we need to fuel ourselves accordingly.
While there are many prebiotic and probiotic supplements on the modern market, we wanted to dig into how we can fuel ourselves naturally, so we asked the naturopathic doctor and author of Younger Skin Starts in the Gut, Dr. Nigma Talib, to share her insight on the matter.
There are a lot of dual products on the market, i.e. brands selling a single capsule that claims to have both prebiotics and probiotics inside, or selling them separately to be taken separately. But how did we feed our guts before figuring this out? What have we humans been eating for centuries to properly fuel ourselves?
Well, the answer is a bit complicated. Due to modern agriculture practices that deplete the soil of powerful bugs and nutrients, as well as sterile environments limiting our exposure to bacteria of all kinds, we are now at a much higher risk of depleted gut flora.
“Both are important for gut health, but in terms of supplementation, I really recommend taking probiotics as an oral supplement as opposed to consuming dairy-based products, like yogurt,” Dr. Nigma explains. “This is because dairy is inflammatory, and in an attempt to get the beneficial bacteria in your gut, it combats the benefits.”
Dr. Nigma also tells us that it’s very difficult to absorb the beneficial bacteria from our diet alone, because the stomach acid and bile acids in our digestion burn off the good bacteria before it has a chance to make it to the small and large bowel.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t add fermented foods to our diet. A small amount does make it to the end of digestion and land in the right place, and these partially digested foods are very easy for us to process, making things run smoothly. Dr. Nigma suggests yogurt and kefir (dairy-free options if available) as well as pickles, kimchi, kraut, miso, koji, and other fermented items.
While we can take prebiotic supplements, it’s quite an expensive way to consume soluble fiber. Dr. Nigma also shares that she doesn’t recommend taking prebiotics via supplementation, “because it can cause bloating, gas, and fermentation in individuals who have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth,” aka SIBO.
Prebiotics are just that—soluble fiber that our gut microbiota breaks down as food, creating short-chain fatty acids that aid in our satiety, stable blood sugar levels, weight loss, mineral absorption, and more. Dr. Nigma recommends foods like asparagus, bananas, garlic, leeks, onions, barley, and oats, but soluble fiber is found in many fruits, veggies, and plant-based items.
Since these are so beneficial for gut health, feel free to eat them any time of day. As for probiotics, Dr. Nigma says we can also take them “any time of day, with or without food, as long as it’s the DDS-1 strain [Healthyflora, a probiotic created by Dr. Nigma, meets this requirement], as it’s highly resistant to stomach acid and highly absorbable. I recommend taking a probiotic with 20 billion [viable organisms] a day—10 billion each of lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.”