What You Need to Know about Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Gut Health

Yogurt can be a good source of probiotics. [Image courtesy of Life of Pix]

Yogurt can be a good source of probiotics. [Image courtesy of Life of Pix]

When it comes to gut health, gut-beneficial food is a hot trend in the culinary world and popular topic of conversation among wellness experts. You may have heard of foods such as yogurt, kombucha, kefir, and sauerkraut being touted as gut-friendly probiotics with helpful bacteria. But what exactly are probiotics and prebiotics, and why are they important for our gut health? We caught up with Mona Sharma, a registered holistic nutritionist, wellness coach, and founder of Xicama, to find out.

Mona Sharma is registered holistic nutritionist, wellness coach, and founder of Xicama.

Mona Sharma is registered holistic nutritionist, wellness coach, and founder of Xicama.

Why is gut health important?

What’s amazing is that science is emerging daily, linking gut microbiome health to overall health of the mind and body.  We know that the GI tract is full of trillions of bacteria that not only help us process food, but that also help our bodies maintain balance and overall well-being. A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, heart health, brain health, improved mood, healthy sleep, and effective digestion—and it may even help prevent certain cancers and autoimmune diseases.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms intended to provide health benefits to the gut by restoring gut flora. Typically, we get these from fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi (to name a few), but broad spectrums and quantities are available in supplement formula.

What are the benefits of probiotics?

In a world where we’re dealing with consistent levels of stress and poor diet that impact optimal gut function, eating/taking probiotics can really help to optimize proper function of gut health by restoring good bacteria. Not all probiotics are the same, but research shows that probiotics can help with digestion and bowel function, our immune system, mental well-being, and even skin health. 

Who would find probiotics particularly helpful? 

Most people can benefit from probiotics—especially those experiencing digestive problems, skin issues, consistent sickness, and even anxiety or stress! The goal is always to optimize gut health, which will in turn support the whole body.

What is the best way to get probiotics?

As a nutritionist, I believe in the power of food to heal the body. So try to keep probiotic-rich foods (as mentioned above) on rotation. If you’re experiencing symptoms, choose a high-quality probiotic supplement from a reputable source with multiple strains and a high CFU (colony forming units). Look for capsules that are also free from allergens like wheat, corn, gluten, soy, and sulphites. 

What are prebiotics and how are they different from probiotics? 

I would say that prebiotics are equally (if not more important) than probiotics because they are like fertilizer that feed probiotics in the gut. So even if you’re not taking a probiotic supplement, eating high prebiotic foods like jicama, leeks, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, onion, and garlic can fuel and help populate the good guys! The easiest way is to keep prebiotic and probiotic foods stocked in your fridge so they’re consistent in your diet.

Tell us about Xicama and how you came up with the idea for it? Why is jicama considered a superfood and what are some of its benefits?

Xicamix is a collection of three Jicama-based cocktail mixes.

Xicamix is a collection of three Jicama-based cocktail mixes.

Jicama is an incredible source of prebiotic fiber and it’s been on my clients’ meal plans as a water-rich alternative to processed foods that will help optimize gut health. One day I decided to juice it and loved the taste! This lead to the creation of Xicama™, a functional food and beverage brand based on the gut health and immune benefits of this superfood.

Jicama is loaded with fiber, it contains high levels of vitamin C that support immune and skin function, it’s low calorie and low glycemic, which supports optimal blood sugar balance, and it’s great for digestion and heart health because it contains oligofructose inulin. Try it as an alternative to crackers to enjoy with hummus, shredded on salads, or check out our Xicamix flavors to enjoy with sparkling water or your favorite tequila. Optimizing health can include a fun functional cocktail once and a while, too!

For more tips from Mona Sharma, visit monasharma.com, and follow @monasharma and @xicamalife.


Lizzy Sherman is an award-winning digital content writer/editor. She has been a featured guest speaker at Cal State University Northridge, Digital LA and The National Association of Audience Marketing Professionals. When she's not writing, Lizzy enjoys yoga and playing guitar. Follow her on Instagram: @zillizy