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, they are VERY different and play totally unique roles in the way your digestive system works.
1. Your Gut As A Garden
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).
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.
2. What 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.
3. What Do Prebiotics Do?
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.
4. Where Can I Find Prebiotics?
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.
5. Benefits of Prebiotics
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.
Stronger Immune System
Better nutrient absorption
Sustainable weight loss
Now onto probiotics…
6. What Are Probiotics?
Probiotics are the live beneficial bacteria that are naturally created in foods that go through a fermentation process like yogurt (yay for Yogland Frozen Yogurt!), kimchi, and sauerkraut.
7. What Do Probiotics Do?
Consuming probiotic foods help to repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria. A healthy balance of gut bacteria can provide numerous health benefits.
8. Where Can I Find Probiotics?
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.
9. Benefits of Probiotics
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
10. Getting Prebiotics Naturally From Foods
Many plants you eat all the time are good sources of prebiotic fiber or inulin:
Other more “exotic foods” are also excellent sources of prebiotics and are a great addition to a varied diet:
Chicory (Avoid if you suffer from ragweed allergies since it’s from the same family.)
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.
11. Getting Probiotics Naturally From 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.
12. When Is the Best Time to Take Probiotics vs Prebiotics?
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.