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What Are Synbiotics and What Do They Do?

There’s more going on in your gut than you realize.

You probably don't think about your insides much, but you have roughly 100 trillion bacteria in your digestive system. These are often referred to as your "gut flora" or your "gut microbiota." While you may normally think of illness when you hear the word “bacteria,” many of the ones in your gut are good and help your body function properly.

Each person's gut bacterial profile is different, can change over time, and can be affected by age, diet, environment, genes, and medications (for instance, antibiotics can kill off a lot of bacteria, both good and bad). Even though you can't see these teeny-tiny gut bacteria or feel them, a growing amount of research is emerging that's showing just how promising they can be. For example, some studies show they may help prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics or infections, or help with the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

This is where your regular diet and supplements come into play. Unfortunately, you can't change your age or your genes, and it's often difficult (if not impossible) to change your environment and your medications, but here's the good news: You do have control over what you put in your mouth.

You’ve probably heard of probiotic foods or supplements, which contain those good bacteria we were talking about. And you may have heard of prebiotics, which are non-digestible, natural food components that promote the growth of probiotics.

But you may not be familiar with synbiotics, which are basically a combination of the two. By getting your prebiotics and probiotics at the same time, they can work together easily. Essentially, the prebiotics are helping to feed the probiotics, so they can do their thing.

If you’re interested in synbiotic supplements, talk to your physician about which strains, which dosage, and which brands are ideal. Another way to add more synbiotics to your diet is to get them from combining certain foods. (When choosing a probiotic food, be sure the product contains the levels needed for the health benefit.) The following simple combos will give you a mix of both prebiotics and probiotics, and there are options for every meal of the day! 

For Breakfast

Serve yourself some yogurt topped with banana slices. Many yogurts contain probiotics, and bananas are a prebiotic food. When shopping for yogurt, look for one that says “contains live active cultures” on the label; some will even list exactly which ones.

For Lunch

Throw some grilled chicken slices on a whole-grain bun with unpasteurized sauerkraut. You'll get your prebiotics from the whole grains and your probiotics from the sauerkraut.

For a Snack

Munch on homemade whole wheat seeded crackers topped with a cheese like gouda, which often contains probiotics (check the label of your preferred brand).

For Dinner

Nibble on edamame, as soybeans are a prebiotic food. Slurp up some miso soup, which can provide probiotics. And cook up a stir-fry dish with the protein of your choice (like tofu or shrimp), along with onions, garlic, and asparagus (veggies that contain prebiotics).