You have no doubt heard the word ‘probiotics’ at least once or twice in the last few months, such is the buzz of this term. But, have you heard about ‘prebiotics’? And, do you even know what each one is? Are they the same? What even are they? Are they useful? Should you be using them?
This is a confusing subject if you have no clue where to start in terms of understanding it all, but the most important thing to realise from the get-go is that probiotics and probiotics are not the same thing!
The problem is, we’re bombarded with information these days on how you should be eating a set number of vegetables every day, you should eat this fruit, you should drink this much water, how are you supposed to know what is real and what is just fake?
It’s difficult, but the most important thing to realise is that provided you focus on your health, and you do your research, you can’t go far wrong.
So, we know that probiotics and prebiotics are important as a basic starting point, but let’s further your knowledge by unravelling the whole mystery on what they really are, and how they are different. By the end of this, you should know exactly why you need both in your diet.
What are Probiotics?
In your gut, you have good bacteria and you have bad bacteria. The good bacteria works to help balance everything out, make sure proceedings run as they should help digestion, and basically stop you having general upsets and problems in the stomach area.
If you have ever had a stomach upset in the past, as most people have, you’ll know it’s a) not pleasant, but b) it can affect the rest of your body too. By ensuring good gut health, you are ensuring good overall health and wellbeing.
How do probiotics come into this?
Probiotics are good bacteria, the good guys that you need to support and look after, to battle against the bad guys, e.g. the bad bacteria which makes you ill and unsettled. Probiotics are live bacteria and they can be found in either supplements which you take on a daily basis, either as a drink or a capsule, and they can also be found naturally in various foods and drinks.
In order to get a good amount of probiotics, most people find they can’t do this from diet alone, hence why probiotics yoghurt drinks and supplements have become so popular over the last few years.
We will explain the benefits of probiotics shortly, but first, let’s define both terms, for ease of understanding.
What are Prebiotics?
If a probiotic is a live bacteria, prebiotics are something else entirely – they can be defined as a substance, loosely referred to as fibre, something which helps the good bacteria to thrive and live.
For that reason, in order for probiotics to work well, you need probiotics to give them a helping hand. As you can see, they’re both different, but they need each other in order to work.
Prebiotics can be found in many foods, usually carb-heavy foods, and they cannot be digested by the human body. That sounds unhelpful, but in actual fact, it’s the opposite – the human body can’t digest the prebiotics, but probiotic bacteria loves it, in fact it needs it in order to thrive.
Put simply, probiotics are the food for prebiotics, and one can’t work well without the other. All of the adds up to better gut health for you.
How Are They Different?
We’ve really just answered that, but to break it down into easily digestible chunks (pardon the pun), let’s summarise:
- Probiotics are live bacteria (good bacteria) which the gut needs for healthy functioning
- Prebiotics are a form of food for probiotics, usually fiber, which can be found in carb-heavy food
- Probiotics do the main job, but they can’t do any of it without food, e.g. prebiotics, to fuel their work
Why Are Probiotics and Probiotics Both Important For Good Health?
The bacteria which is found in the human gut is complex, and we mentioned that there is both good and bad. The bad is battled by the good bacteria, and the effects of this are minimised when the good bacteria is in good supply and working well.
Probiotics are often referred to as ‘gut flora’, basically meaning gut bacteria, and research shows that they help to perform a range of different important functions, not only in the stomach, but across the entire body.
The benefits of probiotics include:
- Helps to balance bacteria within the digestive system, e.g. good versus bad, and prevent illness as a result
- Can help to prevent diarrhoea, or reduce the severity of it
- there is some evidence to suggest that mental health conditions can be improved by taking regular probiotics, including anxiety and depression
- Certain gut problems can be eased and helped with probiotics, such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
- Can help contribute towards heart health overall
- May help to reduce allergies, as well as eczema
- Can help to boost the immune system, and therefore prevent you picking up every virus and bug that is going around
- Can help with weight loss, and targeted loss of stubborn belly fat
There is a lot of research still ongoing in terms of what other benefits probiotics might have in terms of overall health and wellbeing, as well as to what degree the above benefits can claim to have. You can’t argue with that list however, so perhaps it’s time you started incorporating some of these good bacteria into your diet!
We’ve covered why probiotics are important, but what about prebiotics? Basically, prebiotics are important because probiotics can’t do their good work without them. Prebiotics provide the food and fuel, by giving that fibre to the probiotics. Once the prebiotic fiber is taken in by the body, it is converted to another substance, called butyrate. This has many other plus points for the body, because it has been shown to have anti-inflammatory powers, especially for the colon.
For the perfect storm, you need both in your diet. Thankfully, there are many ways you can incorporate both probiotics and probiotics into your diet naturally, but if you do struggle to get a good quota, there are supplements you can consider taking too. Let’s explore this in more detail.
How Can You Incorporate All This Into Your Diet?
There are many foods and beverages which are high in prebiotic content and probiotic content, so try and pack as many of these into your diet on a regular basis as possible.
- Legumes, peas, beans
- Various types of berry
- Jerusalem artichokes – be careful not to confuse this with the regular type of artichoke, as the prebiotic content is very different; stick to the Jerusalem version for the best outcome
- Dandelion greens
- White onions
Remember, always go fresh and try your best to shop for organic as much as possible. This means the product hasn’t been sprayed with all manner of harmful pesticides, and it hasn’t been injected with antibiotics and other false substances which may take away the nutritional content.
- Yoghurt – go for a plain yoghurt with live cultures for the best effect, and in this case, sometimes you do get what you pay for, so opt for quality here
- Kombucha tea
- Dairy and non-dairy forms of Kefir
- Non-pasteurised pickles
- Non-pasteurised pickled vegetables
We mentioned ‘non-pasteurised’, so make sure that the food you’re eating clearly states that on the label to get the best probiotic content. The reason for this is that pasteurising is a process which actually kills off the good bacteria, and totally defeats the object of consuming it.
If you’re reading this and shaking your head because you either don’t like any (or many) of the foods we’ve mentioned, or you find it hard to fit them into your diet on a regular basis, there is another option you can look into – supplements.
You will find many probiotic supplements on the market, however you will need to make sure you’re getting enough prebiotics to support the good bacteria you’re consuming via the supplement. As with any type of supplement to your diet, always check this out with your doctor before you begin, especially if you have any existing health problems, you’re on any regular medication, or you’re pregnant/breastfeeding.
On the whole probiotic supplements come in the form of capsules, pills, or a liquid drink, usually like a yoghurt drink that you have at breakfast. These are all full of the live bacteria which helps the gut to work and function properly. It’s certainly worth shopping around however, as not all probiotics contain the same beneficial strains of bacteria, and they don’t all contain the same amount. Always go for quality, above everything else.
Another point to consider is how the prebiotic you’re choosing works. Some claim to carry the bacteria directly to your large intestine, so they work quicker and more effectively. Others are simply absorbed and then are destroyed by your own stomach acid – this basically renders them useless, so again, shop around and find out about strains and effectiveness before making your final decision.
In Conclusion – Is a Prebiotic and Probiotic Life a Healthier Life?
Yes, yes, and yes again!
It can be so difficult to know what we’re supposed to do, what we’re not supposed to do, and what we should only do in moderation, in terms of our health, and the more information we have, the better. In terms of gut health, there are so many issues which can arise, often down to our busy and stressful lives. IBS is a very prevalent condition, and one which most people have to a certain degrees, perhaps without even realising it. Even allergies, these are strangely common these days, as well as skin conditions, such as eczema. All of this is beneficially aided by probiotics and probiotics.
We’re told we’re supposed to look after our heart health by eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise, but did you know that probiotics play a huge role in that too? Even ensuring you don’t pick up every virus doing the rounds can be boosted by probiotics in your life.
Put simply, there are far too many benefits, and far too much evidence to back it up, to ignore any of it. With more studies continuing, the evidence stacks up ten fold.
Remember, probiotics cannot work without prebiotics, so even if you take a supplement, you still need to make sure that you get enough prebiotic intake into your diet, in order to support the good bacteria, and allow it to do its best possible work. The good news is that packing your diet with prebiotics is a lot easier than trying to get a good amount of probiotics by diet alone.
Vegetables, especially legumes and beans, can easily be incorporated into your daily diet, as well as berries, oats, and fruits.
These are all healthy foods to add to your day regardless of anything else. By ensuring you’re chowing down on these, you’re supporting the work that the good bacteria does in your gut, and helping your body to gain control over the balance of good bacteria.
Of course, you’re also gaining the very beneficial effects across the rest of your body too, from mind, heart, immune system, to allergy control.
There really is no reason not to get on board with probiotics, and by ensuring you know the difference between prebiotics and probiotics, you are giving yourself the best possible chance to reap those benefits and obtain better health and wellbeing in general.
Whether you take a supplement or you go for a healthier diet overall, make probiotics a regular part of your life, and watch your health change for the better.
Here are our top picks if you’re looking for a reliable probiotic supplement (with prebiotic fibre included):