Everyone has heard of antibiotics. Antibiotics are designed to kill or inhibit growth of bacteria. While we are quick to take antibiotics, there are actually good bacteria that we don’t want to kill off. In fact, there is a whole community of naturally occurring bacteria in our gut, referred to as the gut microbiome.
The gut microbiome plays many crucial roles in our body. One such role is fermenting and metabolizing undigested food in the intestines. Absorbable nutrients and waste products are produced by the microbes. These good bacteria are also responsible for producing critical metabolites, such as vitamin K, that the human body cannot produce otherwise but are vital for survival. Other metabolites produced impact human health and behavior through their biological activity as neurotransmitters, hormones, and other bioactive products.
The gut microbiome can be impacted by illness, diet, and antibiotics. Diet has a profound impact on the good bacteria in our gut. In fact, the microbes rely on what we eat to live and function. This is where prebiotics and probiotics become very important. Prebiotics are indigestible fibers that our body cannot break down but the gut microbes ferment and digest. These prebiotics are essential for the good bacteria to grow. Probiotics on the other hand are good bacteria found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and pickled vegetables. Thus, good bacteria are introduced into our bodies through these foods. Prebiotics are food for the good bacteria in our gut and probiotics add more good bacteria to our gut.
When considering your personal diet, there are a few things to keep in mind in regards to prebiotics and probiotics. Because everybody’s gut microbiome is unique and there are no established guidelines for intake of probiotics, it is best to have a balanced diet that includes a variety of foods. This means not going overboard with the yogurt or fermented foods but making sure you do include these foods into your diet regularly. It is also important to remember to include foods high in fiber, such as whole-wheat foods, bananas, leeks, artichokes, asparagus, and soybeans.