Prebiotics are close cousins of fiber. Put simply, prebiotics are food for probiotics, the “good” bacteria that live in our gut. Prebiotics preferentially feed these “good guys,” but not the harmful bacteria that can also invade our gut ecology. The problem is that few people eat foods high in prebiotics—raw chicory root, raw Jerusalem artichokes, acacia gum (or gum Arabic), and raw dandelion greens. You can also get prebiotics from raw garlic and raw onions, but you’d have to eat an awful lot (and deal with the unpleasant odor!). Enter prebiotic supplements. Acacia gum and baobab fruit are good supplement choices.
—Jonny Bowden, PhD, CNS
What should we look for in a probiotic supplement?
The degree of benefit that you’ll receive depends on the quality of the probiotic supplement. Make certain that your product guarantees a minimum number of live bacteria per capsule (expressed as “colony forming units,” or CFU) all the way through the expiration date on the bottle.
Probiotics come in several different strains, and these strains can provide different benefits. The major ones for intestinal health are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, and Lactobacillus bulgaricus. It’s best to take them together, but if you only take one, my top pick is Bifidobacterium bifidum, as it should be the most populous bacteria in our intestines.
Probiotics can be taken with or without food. But if you have heartburn or indigestion, I recommend taking a chewable probiotic with meals.