probiotics and prebiotics for gut health

You will probably hear all about probiotics and probiotics with regards to healthy bacteria and the gut microbiome when reading about gut health as they are really important factors for a healthy digestive system.

So what are they and why are they good for gut health?

Probiotics are live healthy bacteria that when consumed can become established in the gut, or the large intestine (the colon) to be specific. The benefit of this healthy bacteria is that they can push out the bad bacteria, improve the barrier layer of the intestines, help with excreting toxic substances and provide bulk to help with bowel movement.

Some studies have shown that patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) have less healthy bacteria and that probiotics can reduce the symptoms of IBS.

Prebiotics are a type of fibre that is not digested when consumed. When it enters the large intestine it is fermented by the healthy bacteria and is used as food for these good bacteria. People with IBS should be aware that some prebiotic foods are high in FODMAPs and can may cause some unpleasant symptoms. If you’re not familiar with the low FODMAP program click here for a short video.

How to consume them

Prebiotics can include garlic, onion, spring onion, leek, beetroot, artichokes, chickpeas, lentils, pomegranate and watermelon.

If you are testing out the low FODMAP diet you may find that most of these foods are excluded. If so, then it’s a matter of testing them out to see what quantities works for you. I can tolerate raw garlic better than cooked and a small serving of beetroot and pomegranate is ok too but this took a little trial and error to figure it out.

Probiotic foods are usually fermented foods because fermentation is a natural way to produce the beneficial bacteria:

  • Tempeh (fermented soy beans, similar to tofu)

  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)

  • Kimchi (spicy fermented vegetables)

  • Cashew cheese (fermented cashews)

  • Pickles (fermented vegetables such as beetroot, cucumbers etc)

  • Yoghurt (dairy, coconut, goats milk etc)

  • Kefir (can be a dairy or non-dairy based drink)

  • Kombucha (fermented tea)

You can also purchase probiotic capsules from health food stores and pharmacies, however the quality and strains of the bacteria varies and a practitioner (naturopath, nutritionist or dietician) should be able to prescribe the best one for you and your situation.

Buying and consuming probiotics

When buying probiotic foods it is important to ensure that they have not been pasteurised as this will kill off the healthy bacteria as well as the bad. So look out for the chilled version as this preserves the fermentation process and it will usually state on the label “live bacteria” or “live organisms”.

Look for tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, cashew cheese and yoghurt in farmer’s markets, the fridge section of health food stores or speciality grocers or supermarkets.

You can also try your hand at making your own. You find my post explaining the instructions and a recipe for making kombucha here.

It can also be a good idea to try different brands as some will taste better than others and consider trying something new, like coconut yoghurt instead of dairy yoghurt. But be wary of products that have added sugar or other fillers as they aren’t necessary and plenty of brands just use the basic whole food ingredients.

These foods can be consumed daily. A little kimchi or kraut with eggs at breakfast, yoghurt with berries as a snack, cashew cheese wrapped in smoked salmon for afternoon tea with a small glass of kombucha. Once you get started and find out which ones you like, they will become part of your everyday life.

Chiropractor Jeremy Princi explains more about fermentation and its benefits in this post if you’d like more information.

Side effects

Take your time and build up the amount of probiotics you consume. Start small with a teaspoon or two and see how you react. If you do have adverse reactions (allergic reaction, vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea) then check in with a practitioner to figure out why.


Gropper, S & Smith, J 2013, Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism, 6th edn, Wadsworth, Belmont.

Monash University 2016, Dietary fibre and natural prebiotics for gut health: FAQs, viewed 4 April 2016,

Murphy, K 2011, ‘Management of IBS’, Australian Journal of Medical Herbalism, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 188-9.

Sanders, M et al. 2014, ‘Probiotics and prebiotics: prospects for public heath and nutritional recommendations’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1309, pp. 19-29.

Yoon, J et al. 2014, ‘Effect of multispecies probiotics on irritable bowel syndrome: a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled trial,’ Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, vol. 29, no.1, pp. 52-9.

Zeng, J et al. 2008, ‘Clinical trial: effect of active lactic acid bacteria on muscosal barrier function in patients with diarrhoea-predominant irritable bowel syndrome’, Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, vol. 28, no. 8, pp. 994-1002.