There is often confusion between probiotics and prebiotics. This article aims to explain what each does and what the differences are between them.
Probiotics or Prebiotics?
What are probiotics and prebiotics, how do they differ, and why should you care? If those are the questions presently running through your mind, this article will provide you with the answers you seek.
In all probability, you will already have a pretty good idea what probiotics are because it a subject that people talk about a lot these days and it’s hard to ignore all those probiotic products sitting in supermarket chillers.
As you may have noticed, “probiotic” and “prebiotic” are very similar words. The only difference is one has an “o” for the third letter and the other has an “e.”
However, don’t make the mistake of thinking the two words are interchangeable or mean the same thing. This is far from being the case.
Laying it out as simply as possible, probiotics are beneficial bacteria that live in your gut. The word prebiotic refers to a type of indigestible fiber you get from certain foods.
The human digestive organs cannot process prebiotic fiber at all so it passes from the stomach to the intestines untouched.
There lies the benefit because probiotic bacteria feed on prebiotic fiber. It nourishes the bacteria and helps it multiply in our guts.
Many people eat probiotic products because they provide the guts with extra probiotic bacteria. The bacteria in these products is still alive.
Other people prefer to consume prebiotic foods and products because doing so is a little like providing a plant with fertilizer.
Which the best option? Probiotics, or prebiotics? It’s hard to say but there is nothing to stop you deliberately topping up with both.
Why Are Probiotic Bacteria Beneficial?
Your guts are home to many different strains of bacteria, some of which can be damaging to the health.
Probiotic bacteria, also known as gut microbiota, is the “good bacteria” that wages war against the harmful types of bacteria and prevents it from attaining an unhealthy prominence that could have negative repercussions for the health.
Probiotic bacteria further encourage good health by aiding the T-cells that play an important role in the human immune system. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25017466/)
Additionally, probiotic bacteria also appear to help regulate inflammation and the benefits this busy type of good bacteria provides does not end there.
Probiotic bacteria also ferments carbohydrates into short-chain fatty acids and converts nitrogenous compounds in microbial protein.
Probiotic bacteria can create and activate Vitamin K and B Vitamins too. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2754357/)
Though it’s important not to lose sight of the fact many of the benefits probiotic bacteria provide may not be so readily apparent.
For instance, the short-chain fatty acids they produce are the main nutrient necessary for forming the cells that create the gut barrier.
This barrier is important because it prevents viruses, bacteria, and other undesirable microbes from passing through the intestines into the blood.
The Complex Relationship Between Diet and Gut Microbiota
The food choices you make can have a profound impact on your gut microbiota. As touched upon earlier, consuming prebiotic food and/or supplements can nourish your good bacteria and make it stronger.
However, when you eat a lot of food that is high in fat or sugar, it can hinder the good bacteria and feed the less-friendly kinds, helping it to multiply to unhealthy levels.
Needless to say, this is not a situation you want.
There are many arguments for trying to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle, nurturing a healthy gut microbiome is just one of them.
When the gut microbiome is thrown out of whack, be it due to bad diet or any other reason, apart from making you more susceptible to disease it may also cause you to gain weight.
This relationship between gut bacteria and bodyweight may surprise you, but scientists have noticed people who have a healthy gut microbiome are often leaner than people who do not.
They believe this may be because the harmful types of bacteria cause you to absorb extra calories from food.
Some research shows fruits and vegetables that have been treated with pesticides may have a negative effect on the gut microbiota.
Further study is necessary but it could be argued your probiotic bacteria may benefit from a switch to organic food.
Which Foods are Probiotic?
Ask someone to list a few probiotic foods and yogurts will probably sit at the top of the list. That’s not surprising because it’s the probiotic food that has the benefit of a marketing department behind it.
However, lots of yogurts are probiotic whether they are marketed as such or not. If they contain live bacteria, as many yogurts do, it will be the probiotic kind.
Certain other foods are probiotic too and few of them are dairy-based.
A few probiotic food options (that are not yogurt) include:
- Pickled gherkins (non pasteurized)
- Kombucha tea
Which Foods Are Prebiotic?
Although you can do so if you want to, there is no pressing need to buy prebiotic supplements. It’s an option, not a necessity. You can get plenty of prebiotic fiber from food.
Many different types of fruits, vegetables, and legumes contain this probiotic bacteria-boosting fiber.
Good prebiotic foods include:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Dandelion greens
- Chicory root
- Wheat bran
There are, of course, many other prebiotic foods but adding any more would make the above list unnecessarily long. The list’s main purpose is to point out adding prebiotic food to your diet is not a difficult thing to do.
Differences Between Probiotics and Prebiotics Summary
Probiotic bacteria are the friendly type of bacteria that helps keep you fit and well. Consuming food or supplements that contain probiotic bacteria is a popular way to attain and maintain good health.
Prebiotic foods and supplements feed probiotic bacteria and, in so doing, support a healthy gut microbiome.
The human body is complex. Good health depends on many things.
Probiotic bacteria but one of the many important cogs in a very advanced biological machine. But it’s an important cog so it makes sense to take care of it so that it can continue taking care of you.