Gut health is one of my favorite topics! I don't just love talking about gut health because it's so vital for overall health, illness prevention, weight loss, and energy levels. I also love this topic because healing your gut is one of the easiest ways to feel your best. There are so many affordable, easy-to-take supplements for supporting your digestive system.
Many clients often ask for my opinion about probiotics and fiber in my career as a female nutritionist, certified personal trainer, and women's health advocate. They want to know "the skinny" on what to take to keep everything moving. Both probiotics and fiber are important for maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding bloating, and feeling your best. However, you may be wondering which one to prioritize. That's exactly what I'm going to be covering this time around.
Can You Take Fiber and Probiotics Together?
Yes! You can absolutely take fiber and probiotics together. Fiber provides important prebiotic qualities that actually feed the healthy bacteria in your gut to enhance probiotic activity. However, I do have some opinions about which one is "more important" based on a combination of professional experience and published research. There's no doubt that both fiber and probiotics are essential.
My personal opinion is that fiber may be slightly more important than probiotics if you can only focus on one. What's my reasoning? I'll break it down as succinctly as I can.
Good bacteria in your gut can only proliferate if it has the right food source. Fiber is that food source. That means that a person taking the best probiotic supplement in the world may not get the benefits they're seeking if there's nothing for the healthy bacteria being developed in the gut to feed on. As a result, "bad" bacteria will almost certainly continue to overtake good bacteria.
When we eat fiber, it feeds the existing bacteria in the gut to help it grow. Fiber can also help a probiotic supplement to be more effective because it's providing nourishment for new bacteria. Can you tell where I'm going with this? While probiotics may not be effective if there's no prebiotic fiber for bacteria to feast on, fiber alone can be effective for helping whatever amount of good bacteria you have to flourish.
I don't necessarily think that means you have to pit fiber against probiotics. I'm in the camp that says taking both is ideal. However, I will be diving a little bit deeper into how the two compare when it comes to weight loss, constipation, and digestion in just a bit! First, let's go further into the details on probiotics and fiber to discover why so many health experts are suddenly making a big deal about these two essentials.
Overview of Probiotics
Your gut is filled with bacteria. Don't panic! You actually need certain types of bacteria to survive. Probiotic supplements consist of live bacteria and yeasts that are beneficial for your digestive system. They help to regulate levels of bad bacteria hanging around in your gut to promote balance. We need good gut bacteria for digestion, immune function, and disease prevention. Probiotic supplements contain key bacteria strains known to support gut health.
While probiotic supplements have become popular in recent years, most people are still walking around with unbalanced gut environments. It's incredibly easy for the gut microbiome to get knocked out of balance. Stress, poor diet, serious illness, and overuse of probiotics are some of the main causes of gut problems. All of these situations create environments where bad bacteria can overpower good bacteria. Unfortunately, healthy bacteria numbers won't necessarily replenish on their own just because you're making healthier choices. It's almost impossible to get your good bacteria levels back to where they need to be without some sort of probiotic supplementation.
The truth is that we're still uncovering all of the benefits of probiotics for the human body. According to Harvard-associated researchers, studies suggest that probiotic therapy is beneficial for treating gastrointestinal ills, delaying the development of allergies in children, and preventing vaginal and urinary infections in women. Probiotics are also commonly used for:
- Preventing bad bacteria from overrunning your gut to cause illness.
- Supporting the cells that line your gut to prevent foods and beverages from entering your blood.
- Helping your body to properly digest food.
- Helping your body to absorb nutrients from foods.
- Helping your digestive system to properly break down and absorb medications.
Research shows that probiotics have the potential to aid in weight loss and fat mass loss in overweight and obese populations. In one specific study published in 2020, six months of daily supplementation with probiotics significantly reduced bodyweight, BMI, waist circumference, and waist-to-height ratio among participants. Many people suffering from food sensitivities find that their pain, bloating, and inflammation actually go away after they begin supplementing with probiotics. There's even some compelling evidence that probiotics may be effective for cancer prevention. I can tell you from my own experience with recommending probiotics to my clients that people routinely report that they have more energy, stop getting sick so often, notice improvements in the appearance of skin, and feel slimmer.
Overview of Fiber
As a nutritionist, I love fiber! Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can't digest. Unlike other carbs that get broken down into digestible sugar molecules, fiber passes through the digestive tract almost fully intact. Our bodies actually need two types of fiber. Soluble fiber refers to fiber that dissolves in water. When we eat soluble fiber, it transforms into a gel-like substance. Insoluble fiber refers to fiber that doesn't dissolve in water. As a result, it generally retains its shape as it passes through the body. I'll break down why both are so important in the next section!
Soluble fiber slows down the absorption of sugar in our bloodstream. As a result, we feel fuller longer. It also siphons cholesterol from the stool. Insoluble fiber helps to speed up the passage of food through the digestive system. It's vital for creating smooth stools that come with regularity. In fact, a lack of insoluble fiber in your diet could be the cause of your constipation.
Fiber offers an incredible amount of benefits for the body. First, you're simply going to be happier if you're passing smooth, pain-free stools on a regular basis. You're also not going to deal with constant gas, bloating, and discomfort if your fiber intake is where it needs to be. However, the benefits of fiber go much deeper. Here's a quick rundown of how fiber changes your life.
Fiber is essential for weight loss. I could list dozens of studies linking adequate fiber intake with an increased likelihood of maintaining a healthy, stable weight. One study from 2019 shows that fiber intake predicts weight loss and dietary adherence in adults consuming calorie restricted diets. Another study from 2015 found that aiming to eat 30 grams of fiber each day can help you lose weight, lower your blood pressure, and improve your body's response to insulin just as effectively as a more complicated diet.
Key Differences Between Fiber and Probiotics
The thing that stands out about probiotics is that they are living organisms that your body needs to survive. Probiotics can actively help to increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut. By contrast, fiber is a non-living carbohydrate that passes through your digestive tract. Let me sum up the difference between fiber and probiotics in two sentences. Fiber helps your gut through a combination of creating movement and feeding good gut bacteria. Probiotics help your gut by increasing the amount of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Similarities of Probiotics and Fiber
While probiotics and fiber aren't interchangeable, they certainly can be complementary. Using them together can create a strong and resilient microbiome. Using them together can also help you to see results much faster than you would when relying on one alone.
The biggest similarity shared by probiotics and fiber is that both are essential for both health and survival. The other big similarity is that both are often overlooked by people! Of course, both also pass through the digestive system, help to increase levels of healthy bacteria versus bad bacteria, and promote regularity. Lastly, both offer benefits for everything from weight loss to cancer prevention.
Which Is Better for Weight Loss?
I really like both fiber and probiotics for weight loss. However, fiber definitely has the edge in this category for a few different reasons. The first is that fiber promotes regularity. Fiber is also incredible for keeping your appetite under control because it allows you to feel fuller for a longer period of time by stabilizing your blood sugar.
What Is Better for Digestion?
I have to say that fiber and probiotics are essentially tied in this category. Fiber is important for helping the foods that you're eating to pass through your digestive system. Think of fiber as a "carrier" that allows you to properly digest, process, and eliminate food. However, a person who is eating enough fiber may still have digestion issues if they don't have the "base" of a healthy gut microbiome to work with. The chronic inflammation that we experience when the microbiome doesn’t have enough healthy bacteria can make it impossible to properly digest our food. In fact, it's common to experience bloating, upset stomach, diarrhea, and other chronic symptoms of food sensitivity when our good bacteria levels have been overrun by dangerous bacteria. My advice would be to address the root source of the problem by using a probiotic first. Next, introduce fiber to help keep things moving.
What's Better for Constipation: Fiber or Probiotics?
This is a bit of a trick question because both lack of fiber and unhealthy gut bacteria can cause constipation. However, fiber is my go-to choice when clients come to me with complaints of constipation. In fact, dietary fiber has long been recommended for management of chronic constipation based on empirical data. Increasing your fiber intake using either diet or supplementation is the best way to get quick relief from the pain and discomfort of constipation. When treating constipation with diet, opt for leafy vegetables, beans, legumes, and fruits with skins. You can also select fiber supplements available as pills, capsules, gummies, or powders if you're struggling to get enough fiber through diet alone.
I think it's also important to take the long view if you're struggling with constipation. What could be out of balance in your body? A 2019 study found that loss of beneficial gut bacteria may contribute to functional constipation and constipation-type irritable bowel syndrome. It makes sense that using probiotics can help to regulate your digestive tract to correct poor digestion, inflammation, and other underlying causes of constipation.
Final Thoughts on Fiber vs Probiotics
You won't catch me dissuading anyone from trying fiber and probiotics in their pursuit of a healthier gut. The bottom line is that I'm a fan of both! Fiber is my top pick if you're looking to lose weight, enjoy regularity, and keep your blood sugar stable. I highly recommend probiotics if you're suffering from tiredness, constant sickness, food sensitivity, and a sense that something is "off" with your digestive system. There are many reasons why women should take probiotics, and these are the top reasons.
Supplements are great if you suspect that you're in need of an "infusion" of goodness for your gut. However, I do have to put on my nutritionist hat for just a second to let you know that you should ideally be striving to get your daily fiber and probiotic needs taken care of through diet. Fiber is found in beans, broccoli, avocadoes, apples, peaches, peas, chia seeds, and hundreds of other foods that most people eat every day. You may be surprised to discover that live probiotics are waiting inside many foods that you already enjoy. The big winners for probiotics are yogurt, kefir, miso soup, sour pickles, and soft cheeses.
The debate over probiotics versus fiber isn't really a debate at all because they work wonderfully together. It's truly a new day once you heal gut issues! Don't hesitate to start taking fiber and probiotics seriously if you're suffering from sluggish digestion.