After a four month break, we are back in the blogosphere!

At some stage in the future, we plan to run a three-part webinar series on prebiotic, probiotics and fermented foods. It’s like to be three monthly webinars, possibly over the Southern Hemisphere summer months of December, January and February. If not the coming summer of 22/23, then quite likely the next summer of 23/24.

Prebiotics, probiotics and fermented foods – they are separate and distinct, yet very much related, how so? To get the most benefit from these three, it is essential to be clear on what they are, how they are similar, related and different. Plus, how they relate to the other aspects of digestive or gut health as well as the gut microbiota, our microbiome altogether and indeed an appreciation, or at minimum, an acknowledgement or the wide-ranging influence the our gut health has on our overall and specific health and physiology. While fermented foods date to antiquity, probiotics are a more recent concept, but are still certainly not new. It really is just that they are returning to the fore, due to a heightened focus, not just on healthy eating and wellness, but on more natural approaches to maintaining a healthy homeostatic balance. The immune system is a big topic at the moment, and our gut microbiota play a key immunomodulatory effect, in a very natural way. How so and what can we do to maintain ourselves in top health by looking after our gut health?

Well, probiotics are added ‘good’ and ‘friendly’ bacteria that are recognised, such as thorough clinical trials, to have a positive impact on the health of the person ingesting them. Really though, probiotics could be thought of as a supplement, and shouldn’t really be necessary if you are looking after your natural and existing gut microbiome. That’s where probiotics and fermented foods come in. Prebiotics are really the nutrients that these gut bacteria require. Various fibres that they thrive on, examples of which are inulin and especially the oligosaccharides known as GOS (galactic-oligosaccharides) and FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides). These, and other prebiotic fibres, when consumed in appropriate quantities, should be able to sufficiently nourish your existing got microbiota. This is the most natural approach, the simplest approach, and the ideal from the nutritional perspective too. However, there might be times when your normal gut microbiome, which remember, can have an impact on various different parts of your body, might be negatively impacted by a range of circumstances. These could include stress, a poor diet (or lifestyle overall) and/or taking of antibiotics. Antibiotics in particular are bad news for your ‘friendly bacteria’ – once your antibiotics kill some of them off, your natural balance is disrupted and worst case scenario, the way is left open for invading pathogenic bacteria to establish. Remember that your body constantly being challenged, whether it is by cancer cells or invading viruses, bacteria or other microorganisms. Thus, with an out of balance gut microbial ecosystem, it’s only a matter of time that you become sick from the constant challenges of invading microorganisms.

Under such circumstances, probiotics can be useful, either in foods, which may or may not be fermented, or as dietary supplements, like capsules and the like. However, the best way to externally restore your gut microbial balance is with probiotic foods, which may or may not be fermented. This is an important, really essential piece of understanding to gain here, which is – fermented foods are always going to be produced by microorganisms, because this is the nature of fermentation, it is a microbial process. However, those fermented foods may or may not contain probiotics, even if the starter culture microorganisms are still present. On the other hand, probiotic foods may or may not be fermented. Today, there are many new and innovative probiotic food products that contain probiotics that are not fermented. These have a range of probiotics added to them, essentially they are food additives. A classic example is kombucha, the very popular and trending low to non-alcohol fermented beverage. The natural fermenting starter cultures in kombucha are acetic acid bacteria. Acetic acid bacteria do a fabulous job of fermenting sugars into acetic acid during the manufacturing process of kombucha. While they are perfectly suited to fermentation in this context, they are not probiotic bacteria and will do nothing to improve the gut health or any other aspects of health, of the host. Then, you might be asking, but I drink probiotic kombucha, it says probiotic on the label and it is a fermented drink. Yes it is a fermented drink and yes it may be probiotic, but the two are unrelated. This means that probiotics are added to kombucha. The fermenting starter acetic acid bacteria cultures may or may not be present when you consume the drink, but it is irrelevant because they are not probiotics.

We given an extremely brief overview here, but tried to convey the important consumer-related aspect of the difference and relatedness between probiotics foods/drinks and fermented foods/drinks, and how they are the same and different.