It’s so hard to keep up with nutrition trends. Even for a dietitian, it sometimes feels like we need a dictionary just for nutrition terms.
First, we had probiotics. Then came prebiotics. What’s next? Postbiotics, of course.
Let’s cover some basic descriptions of these terms. The term “biotic,” found in each of these, basically refers to something relating to a living thing. In each of these cases, the living things being referenced are bacteria, specifically gut bacteria.
Probiotics are supplements that contain the bacteria themselves. The idea is that we can promote better gut health by adding in beneficial bacteria from a pill. Does it work? The evidence is mixed, but overall weak (except in certain situations, like after using antibiotics). Each person’s population of gut bacteria is more diverse than the population of our planet, so it’s difficult to know what the right “prescription” of probiotics is right for any one person. Additionally, our gut might not be able to support the types of bacteria we’re adding to the mix, so they may just go to waste.
This is where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics, as the name implies, are the substances required to support gut bacteria. They’re the food that these bacteria require, usually in the form of fiber. There are prebiotic supplements as well, but any fiber-rich whole plant food will supply prebiotics for your gut.
Postbiotics are newest to the scene. Postbiotics are substances produced by gut bacteria, such as short-chain fatty acids and peptides. In other words, they’re the waste products of bacteria. Proponents of postbiotics believe that these waste products are the actual key to good gut health and promote good digestion and a strong immune system.
Will postbiotics live up to the hype? Time will tell, but keep in mind that probiotic and prebiotic supplements failed to live up to the initial hype. Odds are, postbiotics will as well. What we do know is the fiber-rich plant foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes provide all the materials needed to provide prebiotic, probiotic, and postbiotic effects. In terms of boosting gut health, they’re your best investment.