Healthy Body

Prebiotics Might Do More For Gut Health Than Probiotics, Says a Functional Medicine MD

Emily Laurence

Photo: Getty Images/Luxy Images
If fiber is the number one all-star when it comes to gut health, probiotics—beneficial gut bacteria—certainly seem to be the second most important. Gut health experts often preach about the importance of probiotic foods, like kimchi, sauerkraut, and yogurt.

But there's something more beneficial than probiotics that we should be focusing on instead: prebiotics, which feed the probiotics in the gut.  That's according to top functional medicine doctor and The New Rules of Aging Well: A Simple Program For Immunity Resilience, Strength, and Vitality ($20) author Frank Lipman, MD. "I'm a bigger believer in prebiotics than in probiotics," he shared during a recent virtual event with the Global Wellness Institute.

He explains that prebiotics are sourced from insoluble fiber, which, unlike soluble fiber, isn't broken down by the body before reaching the small intestine. "Prebiotics make their way into the small intestine and then the microbiome [where the gut bacteria lives] uses it to feed the gut bacteria," he says. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are important for gut health, and most fiber-rich foods have both types.

But the role of prebiotics is to feed the good bacteria already thriving in your gut. And this is why Dr Lipman says he's more into them because everyone's gut constitution is different, making pinpointing the exact bacteria strains to look for in a probiotic capsule essentially a crapshoot.

Dr. Lipman says one particularly great source of prebiotics is the stalks and stems of vegetables. (That's right, the part you usually toss into the compost bin.) He adds that it's best to eat the stalks and stems raw to really get the benefit.

Watch the video below for more tips on what to eat for optimal gut health:

Dr. Lipman does offer up one caveat to the advice of using prebiotics for optimal gut health, however: It's important to treat any underlying gut issues first. He also adds that it isn't unusual to experience a bit of bloating when initially introducing prebiotic foods to your diet, although he added that these symptoms subside after your body gets used to them.

This isn't to say that probiotics aren't helpful at all; Dr. Lipman says we just may be focusing on them more than we need to. Since prebiotics are found in insoluble fiber, it all comes back to the F word once again. As far as the gut is concerned, there's just no getting around the importance of fiber!

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