By SUSAN CALLAHAN, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
The use of probiotics as a weight loss tool has been increasing, almost explosively, for a decade. Probiotics foods and supplements industry sales topped $36.6 billion globally in 2015, according to industry research firm GM Insights.
If probiotics occupy the limelight at the center of the stage of world attention, the, prebiotics are the shy understudy standing behind the curtain backstage. Yet, scientists say that prebiotics may in fact have an impact on our health that rivals that of probiotics. What is the difference between probiotics and prebiotics? Are prebiotics more important that probiotics in terms of weight loss and weight management?
What Exactly Are Probiotics and How Do They Differ From Prebiotics?
Probiotics refer to the bacteria that are the natural inhabitants of the human gut. Our gut is a world unto itself, inhabited by what scientists believe are between 500 and 1000 different species of bacteria.
In mice studies, certain types of bacteria have been shon to reduce the body fat. These fat-reducing bacteria are Lactobacillus species, Lactobacillus rhamnosus PL60 and Lactobacillus plantarum PL62. The bacteria reduce body fat because of their special ability to produce large amounts of a compound called "conjugated linoleic acid", a 2006 study from Seoul National University in South Korea found.
On our own, we humans cannot efficiently produce conjugated linoleic acid. To get conjugated linoleic acid, we need to continually eat foods rich in the acod such as probiotic yogurt.
Prebiotics are the food that beneficial bacteria in or gut need to eat to live. In the gut, two species of bacteria in particular, Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, eat the prebiotics and produce short chain fatty acids. These compounds play an important role in regulating metabolism, blood sugar levels, lipid levels and internal inflammation. The importance of these gut and fecal bacteria are one of the reasons that your digestion and bowels are one of the most important overall indicators of your health.
So, basically, to populate your gut with good bacteria that can help you manage your weight and reduce your risk for disease, you can either populate the gut with a constant supply of new bacteria by eating probiotics or you can just nurture the good bacteria that are in your gut already by eating prebiotics. One doctor compares the choice to a farmer who needs to increase the fish in a pond --- you either keep adding more fish without giving them enough to eat or you add more fish-food to nurture the fish that ar already in the lake, thus encouraging them to breed and thrive.
Which Foods Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotic foods include asparagus, radishes, onions, bananas, garlic, leeks, Jerusalem artichoke and chicory root. These foods are rich in inulin, which beneficial bagel prefer to eat.
Chicory root has the highest known concentration of inulin of all foods, about 28 grams per ounce. In contrast asparagus has about 3 grams per 100 gram serving and onions have between 2 and 8 grams for the same size serving.
Which Foods Are Natural Probiotics?
Probiotics are fermented foods such as sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi, a Korean fermented cabbage. Fermented drinks such as kombucha are also natural probiotics.