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What are Prebiotics and Probiotics and How Can They Improve Your Health?

By Donna Moodie, RD CDN CDE

You may have heard health professionals or friends tell you to eat some yogurt when you are taking antibiotics, but you never understood why. As it turns out, yogurt contains some good strains of bacteria called probiotics (example: Lactobacillus acidophilus) that help keep you healthy. They are like the good bacteria that already live in your gut, which can be depleted by drugs and illness. Eating foods with probiotics can help replace some of these good bacteria. The good bacteria in our intestines help us in several ways by:

  • Improving digestion
  • Protecting against bad bacteria
  • Improving immune function

Probiotics come in supplement form, but can also be found naturally in fermented foods. Including some of these foods in your diet on a regular basis can help keep your gut healthy. Foods high in probiotics include, but are not limited to, yogurt, kefir (fermented milk drink), sauerkraut, miso, aged cheese, sour pickles, and tempeh (fermented soybean cake).

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers found in foods that promote the growth of good bacteria in the intestines. So, having foods rich in prebiotics, along with foods that contain probiotics, is a win-win combination. Foods high in probiotics include, but are not limited to, oats, garlic, whole grains, artichokes, leeks, onion, asparagus, wheat bran, bananas, and psyllium.

Studies of the role of prebiotics and probiotics in the body are both promising and ongoing, so check with your doctor and healthcare team to see whether incorporating these foods into your daily routine would be beneficial.

**Always check with your doctor before taking any supplement or eating foods with probiotics or prebiotics (such as psyllium). Be especially careful if you are ill, have bowel or digestive issues, if you are pregnant, have a compromised immune system, are on immunotherapy, or have HIV/AIDS. The information in this article is not meant to take the place of medical advice, so check with your doctor first before making any changes.

 

Donna Moodie is a Registered Dietician and Certified Diabetes Educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Family Health and Wellness Program. She can be reached at dm258@cornell.edu

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