Probiotics vs Prebiotics: What's the Difference?

You’ve probably heard of the terms pre- and pro-biotic: you may have even tossed a container of yogurt into your shopping trolley or considered adding a prebiotic supplement to your nutrition regimen. But are you ever curious about what pre- and pro-biotics are exactly? And did you know they actually work together to support and sustain optimal gut health?

Probiotics vs Prebiotics: What’s the difference?

Probiotics are foods that contain beneficial bacteria that help to maintain or improve the good bacteria already present in the human body. Although we tend to associate bacteria with disease and infection, some bacteria are incredibly beneficial and even crucial to maintaining optimal health and immune function.

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are high fibre carbohydrates that act as fuel for probiotics (1). An easy way to keep the two terms straight is to remember that probiotics contain good (pro) bacteria, while prebiotics act as fuel for these good bacteria.

How do probiotics and prebiotics work together?

Like any other dynamic duo, pre- and pro-biotics depend on each other for optimal function.

While probiotic foods have skyrocketed in popularity in recent years thanks to the ongoing Greek yogurt trend, consumption of prebiotic foods remains fairly low. Although both pre- and pro-biotic foods tend to be healthy independent of the other, consuming both provides the necessary building blocks to create and sustain healthy digestive function and optimize immune health.

What are the benefits of consuming pre and probiotics?

Although pre- and pro-biotic foods have been consumed throughout the course of human history, research on the benefits of pre- and pro-biotic foods is ongoing. Thus far, studies have shown benefit of pre- and pro-biotic consumption in the assisting the restoration of gut health in those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diarrhea, constipation, urinary tract infections, and H.pylori infections (2).

Pre- and pro-biotic consumption have also been shown to improve immune function, potentially aiding in the prevention of the common cold and flu, or reducing the duration and severity of symptoms (3,4).

New research is even showing potential in the consumption of pre- and pro-biotics in promoting weight loss, by potentially improving the body’s sensitivity to the hormone insulin, reducing risk for insulin resistance (5).

What foods contain pre- and pro-biotics?

Pre and probiotics are found in many easily common foods.

Prebiotics are found primarily in high fiber foods, including garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, apples, bananas, and wholegrains.

Probiotic foods are often fermented, and include sauerkraut, miso, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and pickles (6).

Should I consume pre and probiotics?

Unless your individual physician or dietitian suggest otherwise, the consumption of pre and probiotic foods is likely beneficial: the available studies all show value aspects of natural pre and probiotic rich foods with little to no negative side effects.

However, you should always consult with your individual practitioner before consuming pre or probiotic supplements or changing your dietary routine, especially if you are taking other medications or supplements, or if you are being treated for any specific condition.

Always read the label. Use only as directed. If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional.