Prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics… what are they and what foods are they in?

Prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics… what are they and what foods are they in?


Nutritional supplements are experiencing their golden age. There are all types and for all types of deficiencies: proteins to gain muscle mass, vitamins to combat fatigue and improve the immune system, minerals to sleep better or increase the level of concentration… And this entire ecosystem of multivitamin complexes and magnesium and zinc tablets – which take up more and more space on supermarket shelves – the importance given to our intestinal health has long been added: a world of probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics that is quite confusing for consumers in general, but which all studies consider essential to improve the state of the body.

“Another topic of debate is whether they should be taken as supplements or it is enough to adapt the foods we eat daily,” say experts in endocrinology and nutrition. These are some keys to understanding the microbiota, an intestinal garden in which more than half a thousand species of bacteria coexist.


Probiotics are living organisms – mostly bacteria and fungi – with numerous benefits for our health. «Its function is to colonize our microbiota and balance it. That is, we always have a positive balance between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ microorganisms in the intestine,” explains pharmacist Natalia Muñoz. To understand how they work, we can think of probiotics as the seeds of that garden we referred to before. With proper care they will not only become beautiful flowers but can also repel pests and even kill weeds.

These tiny organisms help metabolize food and also produce vitamins, fatty acids and other nutrients, in addition to improving our immune system, reducing the risk of chronic diseases and keeping bad ‘bugs’ at bay. The best known are bifidobacteria – obtained from the mother during childbirth and through breast milk – and lactobacillus, which is found in numerous fermented foods such as yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, cheese (gouda and gruyère). ) tempeh, miso… Experts insist that consuming products rich in probiotics can improve irritable bowel syndrome, reduce the risk of common infections, increase nutrient absorption and prevent diarrhea associated with antibiotic treatments, but The reality is that there is no perfect and suitable one for all cases and diseases.

For example, for gastroenteritis associated with a medication, a probiotic should be chosen that contains the strains Sacharomyces boulardii and Lactobacillus rhamnosus, “while if it is a drug to treat an oral infection or postoperative wisdom teeth, the most “effective are Lactobacillus salivaris, rhamnosus and acidophillus,” says the pharmacist, nutrition expert. In these cases, it is essential to take the antibiotic and the probiotic at least two hours apart “to prevent the medication from destroying the bacteria provided by the supplement.” And they should always be taken under the supervision of a specialist.

It is also worth clarifying that not all yogurts or fermented foods contain probiotics naturally. In order to take advantage of all its benefits, it is essential that these microorganisms reach the intestine alive, hence a good starting point is to look for the phrase ‘contains live and active cultures’ on the product label.


Continuing with the garden simile, prebiotics would be something like compost and fertilizers that are added to plants so that they grow strong and healthy. «And the way to get these bacteria that are so beneficial to our health to multiply is to feed them precisely with prebiotics, which are complex carbohydrates and fibers found in vegetables (asparagus, onions, garlic, leeks, peas, tomatoes… ), legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans…), whole grains (oats, barley, rye, wheat…), fruits (apples, bananas, watermelons…), nuts (pistachios, cashews… ) and seeds.

In general, digestive system experts advise against taking supplements of both prebiotics and probiotics, unless expressly indicated by a specialist. “The key is in the diet,” all scientific societies agree.


When we eat, gut microbes break down high-fiber foods and the waste products left behind by this process are known as postbiotics. And they are very important because they keep the good bacteria in and the bad bacteria out.


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