Are Probiotic and Prebiotic Supplements Worth It?

Last year, when my fourth book Flat Belly 365 was published, it was one of the prouder moments of my career. This is because it was a product of months of research in probiotics, prebiotics and gut health as it pertains to overall health. I was just getting my hands wet in the subject and was excited to share with the world all I had learned from a dietitian’s perspective. With that said, I am a firm believer in food first and that any sort of nourishment, be it vitamins, minerals or live bacteria, should be obtained through your diet before turning to supplements. This philosophy was reflected in my book. However, I also concede now more than ever that supplements absolutely have their place in certain instances and with specific circumstances.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure to attend a sponsored conference where I met with and heard a talk by Dr. Thomas who is deeply involved in research. When he began his lecture on probiotic supplements I started out skeptical, but after seeing the well-presented science and the connecting the dots with my own nutritional knowledge, my mind was opened on a collaborative approach to gut health. True, as a dietitian, for optimal gut health I recommend daily consumption of the following:

  • Eat up to 25-30 grams of fiber from food: insoluble, soluble and fermentable
  • 9 serving of fruits and vegetables per day and varying in color
  • Eat probiotic and prebiotic foods everyday

However, I’m also aware, based on the thousands of clients I’ve worked with, that many people have barriers to meeting these recommendations such as food preferences, busy schedules between work and family, accessibility and, for some, cost. Therefore, Dr. Thomas and his company Jarrow Formulas, offers a perfect solution to meet people in the middle who are just learning how to keep their gut healthy through nutrition.

The doubts that I had about supplementing with probiotics in the past was that it could not sustain a microbiome and this is still partially true. Probiotic supplements will not save you by putting a band-aid on a faulty diet. You have to build a microbiome of good bacteria by changing your diet completely and consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables, fermented foods along with less sugar and saturated or trans fats. However, a complete overnight diet overhaul is a big ask for most people, so supplementing with probiotics is a fantastic way to keep your gut healthy while you are turning your new eating patterns into a habit. One supplement I recommend is Jarro-Dophilus EPS which contains bacteria strains that have been clinically shown to have a positive influence on the gut bacteria population, promote intestinal health and support immune response.

Probably even more important than probiotic supplements, though, are prebiotic supplements. Prebiotics help the good bacteria in your gut to thrive. However, prebiotics are only found in a few foods and often these foods are those that most people don’t care for like onions, leeks, bran or garlic. So, supplementing with products like Jarrow’s Prebiotic Inulin-FOS can help a great deal. These prebiotic products are able to survive the acidic environment of the stomach to travel safely to the gut where they are fermented by the good bacteria to produce important gases than can promote the integrity of the colon cells and may promote healthy lipid metabolism. Just note: when you are starting a prebiotic fiber supplement for the first time, begin gradually (about 3 grams at a time) and increase based on the rate set by your dietitian or health care provider.

The bottom line? As a registered dietitian I recommend food first, but again, as you work on improving your diet for better digestive health then considering a probiotic and prebiotic supplement, like those offered by Jarrow Formulas, is not a bad idea. That way, you are getting the digestive and gut support you need while you work on cleaning up your diet for a better gut.

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