You've probably heard that prebiotics can help your probiotic work more effectively, and it's true that there's a synergistic effect. "Prebiotics are the food for probiotics," explains New York City-based dietician Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, who adds that "prebiotic fibers fuel the healthy flora in your intestines." But the best prebiotic supplements not only boost your probiotic, but they offer important benefits in their own right.
Prebiotics have some weird but crucial benefits that affect your daily life. "They can help people to form large stools, something that may alleviate the bloating, pain, and diarrhea associated with irritable bowel diseases," says Alex Turnbull, RD, a registered dietician and advisor to Jetson Probiotics. "Prebiotics may also have another beneficial impact on the body: increasing the production of short-chain fatty acids that reduce inflammation."
Similar to how probiotics contain different bacterial strains, prebiotics come from a variety of different fiber sources, and some are more effective than others.
Prebiotic sources to look for
Incorporating prebiotic-rich foods into your diet is a good place to start. That said, there are also food-based supplements that are easy to take and for your body to absorb. Turnbull says to look for capsules that "provide fiber found in everyday foods such as inulin or fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Most supplements use fiber from plants like chicory because it both nourishes the beneficial bacteria and inhibits the bad kind."
To further that thought, Kylene Bogden, RDN,a Cleveland-based dietitian who specializes in functional nutrition, suggests looking for these four compounds while shopping for a quality prebiotic:
Inulin, a form of dietary fiber
Oligofructose, a subgroup of non-digestible inulin fiber
Fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a non-digestible carbohydrate
Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), a soluble dietary fiber derived from the lactose in cow's milk, beans, or certain root vegetables
How much should you take?
It's important to underscore that your daily dose of a prebiotic should only supplement the fiber you're already getting in your diet. "Five grams per day of a prebiotic supplement blend is ideal for most people. It should enhance your eating regimen not replace," explains Bodgen. (Note that getting an approximate 5-gram dose in one serving of a supplement often requires taking it in powder form mixed with water or a smoothie).
All of the options below offer a dose within that approximate range and include one or more of the prebiotic types mentioned above. Just remember that you should always speak with your own doctor first before starting any new supplement.
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