Prebiotics vs Probiotics – What’s the Difference?
- Written by Kelly Harris
- August 21, 2021
- 4 min read
Probiotics and prebiotics are a pretty hot topic in the world of nutrition and wellness these days. In the UK, we spend roughly three-quarters of a billion pounds on probiotic products each year.
Across the pond, US consumers spend a whopping $60 billion of their hard-earned cash per year on probiotics in the hope that these beneficial little bacteria will colonise in their gut and improve their overall health.
So what’s all the fuss about? Well, we need a good balance of probiotics and prebiotics to thrive.
For most healthy people who are not on a specific health protocol, there’s no need to buy expensive probiotic tablets or prebiotic powders, because both can be obtained through food.
So, to help you expand your knowledge on all things gut health-related, we thought we’d give you the lowdown on the difference between prebiotics and probiotics and how you can get more of them into your diet.
What are Probiotics?
To get the most out of taking a probiotic supplement or eating probiotic foods, you need to know what probiotics are. Probiotics are the live, beneficial bacteria that can influence your gut microbiota composition. Somewhere between 39 to 300 trillion bacteria reside in our bodies, mostly in our intestines. Generally speaking, the wider the diversity of beneficial bacteria you have, the healthier a person you are.
A good analogy is to think of your gut as a car park. You want all the spaces in the car park filled with beneficial bacteria. When a “parking space” is empty, that leaves room for pathogenic bacteria to take hold.
Good Sources of Probiotics
Probiotics can be found in supplement form in health food stores and pharmacies. They can be confusing and potentially very expensive. They certainly have their place in health protocols or when accompanying a course of antibiotics, but probiotics also can be found in everyday foods which can be easily incorporated into your diet. A great place to start is yoghurt or milk kefir. Probiotic yoghurts and milk kefirs can be found in most supermarkets in both dairy and dairy-free versions.
Other delicious probiotic foods and beverages include:
– Milk or Water Kefir
– Fermented pickles
– Some types of cheeses (including Gouda, Cheddar, Parmigiano and Swiss)
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are the foods that feed our gut flora – basically fibre. I always explain to clients that there is no point wasting money on probiotic supplements if they’re not consuming a good variety of prebiotics in their diet.
If the beneficial bacteria colonising your gut don’t have access to prebiotics – the foods they eat in order to survive and thrive – they will not flourish.
All prebiotics are fibre, however, not all types of fibre are prebiotic. Fibre is the part of the plant which we cannot digest, but our gut bacteria can and it is their sole source of food. So many of us eat only about half the recommended daily intake of fibre, and as a result, our gut microbiome often suffers and impacts our overall health.
Adults should be eating around 30 grams of fibre per day in line with the British Dietetic Association’s recommendations. (You can find fibre intake recommendations for children on the BDA website.) Eating a diet rich in fibre will help:
– Support a healthy gut microbiome
– Improve bowel motility and reduce constipation
– Improve overall immunity
Just make sure you’re drinking adequate amounts of water, especially when you’re new to an increased fibre intake.
Good Sources of Prebiotics
Different types of bacteria prefer different types of fibre, so including lots of types of fruits, vegetables, onions and garlic, greens, grains, beans and lentils will encourage your gut bacteria to thrive.
We hope you enjoyed this summary of prebiotics vs probiotics. If you liked this, you may also like our article 10 Tips to Make Eating the Rainbow Easier.