With all this talk about the importance of gut health, it’s easy to get confused by some of the important terms. Probiotics vs prebiotics for instance…
While PROBIOTICS and PREBIOTICS sound similar, (for goodness sake, they are nearly the SAME word…), they are VERY different and play totally unique roles in the way your digestive system works.
Probiotics vs Prebiotics
2. What Are Prebiotics?
3. What Do Prebiotics Do?
4. Where Can I Find Prebiotics?
5. Benefits of Prebiotics
6. What Are Probiotics?
7. What Do Probiotics Do?
8. Where Can I Find Probiotics?
9. Benefits of Probiotics
10. Getting Prebiotics Naturally From Foods
11. Getting Probiotics Naturally From Foods
12. When Is the Best Time to Take Probiotics and Prebiotics?
If you imagine your gut as a garden, think of probiotics as the seeds you plant, and think of prebiotics as fertilizer and water for the seeds.
With the right foods, you can keep the weeds (bad bacteria) down, keep your good bacteria flourishing (prebiotics) and keep everything fed, watered and blooming with the right fertilizer (prebiotics).
Your gut is the garden of eatin’! See what I did there?
In human terms, eating balanced amounts of both probiotics and prebiotics can help ensure that you have the right balance of these bacteria, which should improve your health.
Let’s talk about the differences and why they are so important in your quest for improved gut health.
First off, alphabetically speaking, are prebiotics.
Prebiotics are essentially specialized plant FIBER. It’s a special kind of fiber though.
That is, the fiber in plant foods that is non-digestible. Because it’s not digested in the stomach and small intestine, this non-digestible prebiotic fiber ends up in the colon.
This specialized, un-digestible fiber is called inulin and is found in certain plant foods.
The undigested prebiotic fiber travels past the stomach and the small intestine, to the colon where it starts to ferment. This fermentation process feeds all the beneficial bacteria that live in your gut.
And you know that we want that beneficial bacteria in our colon to be happy and well fed. That’s essentially what prebiotics do and why they are so important to good gut health.
So the probiotics act as the fertilizer and water for your gut garden.
Your gut can also take that prebiotic fiber and turn it into a short-chain fatty acid called butyrate. This fatty acid has been extensively studied and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects inside the colon. (source)
In addition, it may also block the growth of cancerous cells and help provide the fuel that healthy cells need to grow and divide normally.
Before you run out to the health food store and buy expensive prebiotic supplements, remember that many plant foods naturally contain them.
Prebiotic foods are everywhere and you’re probably already eating many of them. Think of foods like bananas, onions, garlic, apple skins, beans, etc. Those are all foods made up of non-digestible fiber that ends up feeding the good bacteria in your gut.
Prebiotics are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. These carbs aren’t digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the bacteria and other microbes.
Prebiotics are helpful in establishing and increasing the numbers of good bacteria in your gut. And considering how important gut health is, that’s a huge benefit. But adding probiotics to your diet each day can improve your overall health as well. (source)
- Improved Digestion
- Stronger Immune System
- Better nutrient absorption
- Sustainable weight loss
- Natural detoxification
- Stress support
Now onto probiotics…
Probiotics are the live beneficial bacteria that are naturally created in foods that go through a fermentation process like yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Consuming probiotic foods help to repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria. A healthy balance of gut bacteria can provide numerous health benefits.
Lucky for your gut health, probiotics are found in lots of different delicious foods, so it’s easy to find a probiotic that you like. Probiotic foods naturally contain helpful bacteria.
Many of these foods can be made at home or purchased at grocery stores, which shows you just how mainstream caring about gut health is. Yogurt, kefir, miso, and fermented veggies are some great choices.
The probiotics in fermented foods or supplements can help your body in a number of important ways. As they repopulate the gut with good bacteria, they have the following powerful effects on your overall health. (source)
- Balancing the Good Bacteria in the Gut
- Preventing and treating Diarrhea
- Improving some mental health conditions
- Keeping your heart healthy
- Reducing the severity of allergies and eczema
- Reducing the symptoms of IBS, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- Boosting your immune system
- Helping you lose weight and belly fat
Many plants you eat all the time are good sources of prebiotic fiber or inulin:
- Green Bananas
Other more “exotic foods” are also excellent sources of prebiotics and are a great addition to a varied diet:
- Dandelion Root
- Chicory (Avoid if you suffer from ragweed allergies since it’s from the same family.)
- Jerusalem artichokes
For a comprehensive list of foods to add to your diet, scroll to the end of this post to download a free list of the 31 best prebiotic foods.
You’re probably already eating some foods that naturally contain probiotics.
A high quality, plain yogurt with active live cultures is an easy way to add beneficial bacteria to your diet.
Fermented foods are another delicious option.
- Pickles (non-pasturized versions in the cold case)
- Other (non-pasturized) pickled vegetables
Some foods, like sauerkraut, are considered to be a super-gut food because it contains both beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and a prebiotic source of fiber for the bacteria to feed on.
For the healthiest gut, you should make sure to get prebiotics and probiotics into your diet each and every day. Getting into a daily gut health routine of choosing foods rich in both prebiotics and probiotics is the best way to establish a daily, healthy habit.
So, add some prebiotic and probiotic foods to your shopping list. Your gut will be grateful!
All this gut health information can be so confusing, but working to heal your gut and improving your gut health is so worth it.