Prebiotics and Probiotics: What’s the Difference?

Probiotics Cartoon

You have probably heard the terms ‘prebiotics’ and ‘probiotics’ thrown around but what actually are they and what is the difference between the two?

What is the difference between the two?

Probiotics are live microorganisms found in bacteria, yeast or fungi, and when taken in large doses they can help improve and maintain the health of your gastrointestinal tract, as well as helping to aid digestion. In order for the good bacteria to survive in our bowels, we need to feed them with prebiotics. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibres that allow for good bacteria to stick to the bowel wall, whilst helping to stimulate their growth.

Probiotic = live microorganisms
Prebiotic = non-digestible fibres

A simple way of thinking of it is the probiotics are the beneficial bacteria and prebiotics are the food for that beneficial bacteria.

How do they affect our health?

Gut health is becoming more and more pivotal in the world of nutrition. There are numerous benefits of incorporating prebiotics and probiotics into our everyday diets.

The inclusion of probiotics in the diet can help protect against pathogens, toxins, infections and help protect our gut lining. As well as helping to aid in the absorption of vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12, iron and magnesium.

Functionally, including more probiotics in our diets can assist with intestinal motility, bile creation and gastric secretion, and help our immune function.

While, on the other hand, prebiotics can improve our digestion, increase absorption of nutrients, act as natural detoxification, increase our immune strength and they can even potentially aid in the management of our weight. They also help to stimulate the growth and survival of good bacteria and discourage the growth of harmful organisms.

The importance of prebiotics and probiotics in our diets is astounding. It seems these microorganisms, albeit tiny, pack a nutritional punch!

Heart Made from hands over abdomen

What happens if we don’t get enough prebiotics and probiotics?

If our diets are lacking in prebiotics and probiotics, pathogenic bacteria can begin to grow in our bowels, which leads to poor digestion amongst other things.

As a result, this can cause bloating, flatulence, constipation, diarrhoea, and inflammation and damage to our gut lining. It is important we look after our digestive system, as it is considered to be one of the workhorses of our bodies. Our digestive system is responsible for removing waste from our bodies, but it is also responsible for the breakdown of nutrients the body needs for energy. Furthermore, our digestive system also contributes to our body’s immune system, which helps defend off any nasty pathogens or harmful bacteria.

What are some foods that rich in prebiotics and probiotics?

• Probiotic-rich foods include yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, miso sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables.
• Prebiotic-rich foods are typically high in fibre and some examples include bananas, soybeans, Jerusalem artichokes, oats, berries, garlic, onion, legumes, tomatoes, and green vegetables.

Take home message

Keeping our gut bacteria happy and healthy is important for many aspects of health and wellbeing. To do this, we need to include plenty of prebiotic and probiotic foods, as these will help promote an ideal balance between good and bad gut bacteria. So next time you are walking down the supermarket aisle, consider adding some more prebiotic and probiotic-rich foods to your shopping trolley. Your gut will thank you for it.

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