prebiotics vs probiotics

Prebiotics vs Probiotics

You may have heard about the emerging area of prebiotics, particularly given all of the media attention regarding their counterparts, probiotics. So what’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics, and how do they benefit your overall health?

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are carbohydrates found in foods which help to grow “good” bacteria (probiotics) in the gut. They are non-digestible and are naturally found in many foods.

The two common types of prebiotics are Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) and Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). You can get prebiotics through diet by consuming a variety of vegetables (particularly garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, onions, tomatoes, leeks), grains (whole wheat, rye, barley), some roots (such as chicory root) and fermented dairy (kefir, buttermilk, yogurt).

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are the “good” bacteria which helps to keep gut flora in balance. They are typically added to foods such as yogurt, cheese and milk beverages (such as kefir), and are found naturally in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso.

Is one better than the other?

It can actually be beneficial to include both prebiotics and probiotics in your diet, as they can work together to provide gastrointestinal benefits. Food combinations which contain both probiotics and prebiotics are called synbiotics, and you can actually create these quite easily yourself by pairing different foods together. Some examples of synbiotics include:

  • Yogurt with bananas
  • Asparagus with kimchi
  • Miso-glazed fish with steamed artichokes
  • Kefir overnight oats (try this recipe!)

How do I know if I’m getting enough prebiotic foods?

The recommended amount of prebiotics is actually not yet known, as more research still needs to be completed in order to fully discover their potential. However, it is important to consistently include prebiotic-containing foods in your diet to reap several important health benefits. In addition to promoting healthy balance in gut microbiota, some research shows that prebiotics may improve calcium absorption, relieve some symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and help with weight management. It should be noted, however, that prebiotics may not be appropriate for everyone – especially if you’re following certain diets (e.g. Low FOMDAP diet).

What’s the best way to learn more?

Before embarking on any major dietary changes, it’s important to chat with your dietitian or family physician to ensure that a prebiotic-rich diet is right for you. If you want to learn more about prebiotics, probiotics, or synbiotics or receive advice on how to incorporate these products in your diet, contact your dietitian!