Prebiotics vs Probiotics

Have you been hearing more about prebiotics lately? Maybe you’re wondering if you really need both prebiotics and probiotics? The short answer is most people do benefit from both, whether provided by food or supplements.

A quick refresher on probiotics. They are live organisms (bacteria or yeast) that support our gut bacteria, enhance nutrient absorption and help keep bacteria in balance. This good bacteria helps to prevent pathogenic or opportunistic bacteria from growing and causing an imbalance. An imbalance of bacteria not only contributes to digestive issues, but can also result in health challenges throughout the body.

Prebiotics feed bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are high fiber carbohydrates, and consist of soluble fiber. Soluble fiber dissolves in water or bodily fluids, creating a gel-like substance as it passes through the digestive tract. High soluble fiber foods take longer to digest and are fermentable. Once they reach the colon, they feed the good bacteria. However, high fermentability foods can cause digestive symptoms with individuals experiencing an overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria (i.e., opportunistic or pathogen), and it may be an indication of SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth).

It can be normal to experience some bloating when adding prebiotics, probiotics or fiber. Usually the bloating subsides within a week. If it results in significant GI symptoms, or lasts longer than a week, it may be a good idea to do some further investigating to determine the root cause of symptoms and what is needed to bring bacteria back into balance.

Both prebiotics and probiotics support a healthy gut microbiome and are beneficial for overall health. Think of prebiotics as the fertilizer in the garden (i.e., the colon) and probiotics provide additional support allowinging the bacteria to thrive. Prebiotics feeding healthy gut bacteria result in the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFAs suppress inflammation, lower our risk of colon cancer, enhance mineral absorption, and also support the mucosal cells lining the inside of our intestines.

While there are supplement options for both prebiotics and probiotics, they can also be obtained from foods.

Prebiotic Foods:

  • Jerusalem Artichoke
  • Leeks
  • Asparagus
  • Onion
  • Garlic
  • Radishes
  • Oats
  • Unripe Green Bananas

Probiotic Foods:

  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Kefir
  • Yogurt
  • Pickles

Try adding some of these foods into your daily diet. If you haven’t been enjoying these foods, start low and slow. Adding too many too quickly, can leave you very uncomfortable.