Probiotics and prebiotics: these two similar sounding words are popping up in a lot of the literature around nutrition and as such often get confused for each other. So, what’s the difference between these two nutritional components? Is one better than the other? And how can you incorporate both into your daily diet? Read our guide to find out more about probiotics vs prebiotics.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROBIOTICS AND PREBIOTICS?
Probiotics and prebiotics, though working in tandem, serve two different functions within the human body. Probiotics are live bacteria, which can be sold as supplements or found in certain fermented food products like kombucha, that can provide numerous health benefits. Research has shown that probiotics can be beneficial to improving gut health, digestion and reducing inflammation. Conversely, prebiotics don’t contain any bacteria themselves. Rather, they act as a food source that provides fuel for the bacteria to grow. All prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber. You can find them in many fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain complex carbohydrates, like fiber and resistant starch. These types of carbs aren't digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the bacteria and other microbes. Because prebiotics occur naturally in foods, there’s no need to take them in the form of supplements.
PROBIOTICS VS. PREBIOTICS : IS ONE MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE OTHER?
While both probiotics and prebiotics can contribute to overall good gut health, prebiotics are rendered effectively useless on their own. It’s only when you pair them with probiotics that prebiotics offer additional physical benefits. And although prebiotics, as mentioned above, can provide your gut’s friendly bacteria, also called the gut flora or gut microbiota, with nutrition to grow and thrive, so can a diverse and nutritious diet. In fact, a well-balanced microbiota often just requires a healthy diet and a complement of fermented foods. Otherwise, when the microbiota is changed or its bacteria is limited, the immune system is suppressed. However, far less research exists on prebiotics than on probiotics. As a result, the extent to which prebiotics can improve gut and overall health is unknown. And scientists still can’t say for sure whether prebiotics strengthen the benefits of probiotics.
WHERE TO FIND THEM?
As mentioned above, prebiotics naturally occur in a variety of foods high in complex carbohydrates, but are especially present inroot vegetables, stems & greens, fruits, whole grains, seeds, and legumes. Therefore, chicory root coffee, bananas, apples, beans, onions and oats are all good foods to incorporate into your diet, especially if you’re trying to rebuild your gut flora. Probiotics can easily be found in fermented foods, which contain live bacteria—just make sure the ones you’re consuming are refrigerated. Popular fermented foods include yogurt, tempeh and miso (both made from fermented soybeans), sauerkraut, kimchi and, of course, kombucha.You can also find prebiotics sold as commercial food additives or capsule supplements in both liquid and powdered forms. A food product that contains both prebiotics and probiotics is called a synbiotic product. Synbiotics foods include cheese, kefir, and certain types of yogurt.
In conclusion, a healthy body requires a well-balanced microbiota, which you can achieve through a diverse diet and a side of fermented foods. Although there is some research indicating that prebiotics provide the bacteria in your gut flora with nutrients that strengthen it, not enough research has been conducted on prebiotics to render this finding conclusive. Probiotics, on the other hand, have been known to increase the number of healthy bacteria in the body, reducing inflammation and aiding in digestion. Fermented foods, like Gutsy kombucha, can provide your microbiota with the bacteria it needs to to function properly.