Probiotics and Prebiotics
It might sound counterintuitive, but bacteria is actually extremely important to gut health. There is a densely populated community of microorganisms that inhabit our guts and contribute to healthy digestion and absorption. When it comes to gut flora you're probably very familiar with probiotics and their importance to digestive health, but the lesser known prebiotics are equally as important. Put simply probiotics are the actual gut bacteria and prebiotics are the food they need to survive.
Probiotics are foods and supplements that are generally made from two strains of live bacteria, Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium, that are most commonly derived from lactic-acid and nonpathogenic yeasts. They are beneficial in recolonizing the microflora of the gut and helping to populate it with the beneficial bacteria that are necessary for digestion. When introduced early on, probiotics have found to be helpful in staving off the development of certain allergies in infants by helping to mature their gut barrier, making a strong case for introducing probiotics as early as possible. Probiotics can also be passed on in breastmilk so it's a great addition to any nursing mother's diet.
Prebiotics are equally as important to digestion as probiotics because they are the indigestible carbohydrates that serve as food for the probiotic bacteria that inhabit the gut. Prebiotics reach the colon intact and they are fermented within the colon to serve as food for healthy bacterial colonies. The support of prebiotics to the microflora of the gut has been found to have myriad benefits including boosting the immune system by influencing the secretion of antibodies, increasing the absorption of important minerals such as calcium and magnesium, supporting regular eliminations, and supporting the development of necessary gut bacteria in breastfed infants.
Probiotics can be added to the diet either in the form of foods that are cultured or fermented using these bacteria such as: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, and miso; or by introducing the bacteria cultures directly in the form of supplements. Prebiotic foods include any that reach the colon intact such as raw garlic, onions, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and raw chicory root. Try to include a good mix of both probiotic and prebiotic foods for a happy, healthy, well populated gut.