What’s the big deal with having a “healthy” gut? 

Did you know that your body is home to trillions of microorganisms, including the thousands of bacteria that live in your gut? These gut bugs are important for digestion and acquiring nutrients from the foods you eat. But did you also know they play a major role in your immune system, keeping you healthy? So you may be wondering how to get a leg up on this gut health thing. Well, prebiotics and probiotics are two components that promote healthy gut bugs. Read on to learn more about probiotics and prebiotics, as well as Registered Dietician tips for affordable gut health improvement tips.

Probiotics

Probiotics are bacteria in foods and supplements that are actually living beings. These bacteria are present in fermented foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, miso soup, and kimchi. And they are also touted in the increasingly popular beverage, Kombucha (more coming on this soon!). Even though you already have living bacteria in your gut, consuming a probiotic may increase the number of good bacteria. Research has shown that probiotics may help repopulate the colon with healthy gut bugs following antibiotic use, improve symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and other gastrointestinal disorders, and may even be beneficial to the treatment of obesity, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Does this mean you need to buy an expensive supplement or stock up on yogurt? Not necessarily. Here are a few things to know before you do that. Probiotics are only effective if they are alive. In fact, probiotics are fragile and can be killed by heat, stomach acid, and sitting too long on the shelf at the grocery store. Additionally, there are hundreds of probiotic species, however, the best species for the average person is still unknown. Once ingested, probiotics must compete with hundreds of thousands of other bacteria in the gut to survive and flourish.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that feed the bacteria in your gut. The bacteria ferment these fibers and use them for energy. It’s easy to eat prebiotics! These fibers are found in common foods like bananas, onions, garlic, the skin of apples, sweet potatoes, and beans. Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not affected by heat, stomach acid, or time and studies have shown that prebiotics may help improve immunity, digestive health, bone density, weight management, and brain health.

While there are many prebiotic pills and supplements, there is one simple thing to know about prebiotics; they are easily acquired. Just eat your fruits and veggies!

At this point you can see why having a diet rich in both prebiotics and probiotics is beneficial for your health. But let’s be real. Not all of us can afford to take expensive supplements and drink a $3.50 bottle of kombucha every day.

Here are some affordable tips for maintaining good gut health:

  • Spend your money on food sources of probiotics before turning to supplements. Yogurt is one of the cheapest. Look for “live, active cultures” on the label and avoid too much added sugar.
  • Making your own yogurt can save you money and ensure that your bacteria is alive. Did you know that you can make yogurt in an Instant Pot?
  • You can also make your own sauerkraut, kimchi, or kombucha.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables with prebiotics. Apples, bananas, garlic, onions, sweet potatoes, and beans are among the grocery store’s most inexpensive items.
  • Grow some of your own vegetables or join a CSA to get some of the freshest produce.
  • Avoid spending your money on processed foods that don’t contain any vitamins, minerals, or fiber. They actually can have a negative effect on your gut health.

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