Probiotics & Prebiotics: What’s The Difference?

The “probiotic” and “prebiotic” movement has captured the world’s attention. However, most people use these terms interchangeably without realising that they are two very different things!

They may sound similar and they even have similar spellings, but the roles they play for our health are immensely different. Probiotics are the beneficial “good” bacteria of the gut, while prebiotics are the foods that these bacteria feed on.

Both probiotics and prebiotics are important for human health. For example, prebiotics and probiotics both support the body in building and maintaining a healthy colony of gut microbiome, which in turn supports the gut, helps with boosting our immunity and aids our digestive function.

Prebiotics are present in fibre-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. And, probiotics occur in many fermented foods, including yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and tempeh.

Here in this week’s article, I focus on the differences and similarities between probiotics and prebiotics, their various health benefits, and how we can incorporate them in our diet to improve our health and wellbeing and bring vitality into our lives.


Probiotics Vs. Prebiotics

Probiotics are the live “good” bacteria found in certain foods or supplements. They provide numerous health benefits. The gut bacteria are collectively referred to as the gut flora, gut microbiota, or gut microbiome.

On the other hand, prebiotics are the substances that we extract from the fibrous content of certain foods during the digestive process. The human body cannot digest the bulky fibre, but the beneficial bacteria in our gut thrive on the nutrition it provides.

Eating balanced amounts of probiotic and prebiotic-rich foods is essential in ensuring that you have the right balance of these bacteria populating the gut.


How Does it Work?

The lining of our gut is covered in hundreds and thousands of microscopic creatures, mostly bacteria. Together these organisms create a micro-ecosystem called the gut “microbiome”. And though we don’t really see and notice them, they can impact our health and even affect our moods and behaviours.

Interestingly, what you feed your microbiome can have the biggest impact on its health. And the healthier it is and the more it thrives, the healthier you will be. The key to a healthy microbiome is maintaining and sustaining a balance among the nearly 1,000 different species of bacteria housing the gut.

There are two ways to maintain this balance:

(1) by nourishing the microbes with foods they like (prebiotics), and 

(2) by adding live microbes to your system (probiotics).


The Benefits of Probiotics

The beneficial effects of probiotics have been widely noted. Probiotic foods and supplements are often recommended to patients on heavy doses of antibiotics in order to help repopulate the desirable bacteria that the course of antibiotics has wiped out. 

Some find taking probiotics can reduce inflammation, restore gut lining, fight gastrointestinal side-effects of medication and reduce the bacterial growth leading to yeast infections.

Since each body is different, it is necessary to determine which probiotics might be helpful to your own system. While consuming probiotic supplements, it is important to make sure that the bacteria in supplements are alive. Probiotic bacteria are fragile and can easily be killed by stomach acid, age and heat.


The Benefits of Prebiotics

Very similar to the health benefits offered by probiotics, prebiotics too are significant for our health. For example, prebiotics feed the gut microbiota that in turn help in reducing disease risk and improving general wellbeing. 

Prebiotic fibre is not as fragile as probiotic bacteria and is not affected by heat, stomach acid, or age. Nor does the fermentation process impact the benefits it provides.

Increasing prebiotic fibre intake in your food can help boost immunity, improve digestive health, strengthen bones and increase bone density, enhance weight control and management, and promote brain health.


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