While you’ve probably heard of probiotics, you may not have heard of the similar-sounding ‘prebiotics’ before. And if you have, then you might not know what they are or what they do — or which is best.
Both prebiotics and probiotics are good for your health, helping to support your digestive system and providing a range of benefits. But how do they compare?
If you want to know what the difference is between prebiotic vs probiotic, you’ve come to the right place. Here, we explain the roles and benefits of each, where you can find them, and how you can get more of both in your diet.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria (and/or yeasts) that can be found in certain foods and in probiotic supplements. These living microorganisms, when ingested in adequate amounts, provide a health benefit.
We often call probiotics ‘good bacteria’, or ‘friendly bacteria’. This is because they have a proven benefit for us.
Bacteria like probiotics naturally live in your body. You can find most of them in your gut (though they live in other places too), where they maintain a healthy balance in your body and help to keep you well. Consuming probiotics through food or supplements has a positive effect on these existing bacteria.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a special form of dietary fiber that comes from certain types of carbohydrates.
We can’t digest this particular type of fiber (prebiotics), however, prebiotics are a source of food to the friendly bacteria in our gut — eating prebiotics helps these healthy bacteria to grow and thrive.
In turn, this keeps us healthy, makes our digestive system work better, and helps maintain the internal balance in our bodies.
The difference between prebiotics and probiotics
Although they sound very similar, they are not. Both probiotics and prebiotics are important for your gut, and each has their own important — and different — role to play.
Probiotics add helpful, healthy bacteria to your digestive system to boost your good bacteria numbers and keep everything running smoothly.
Prebiotics feed these good bacteria, stimulating growth and ensuring that the number of good bacteria remains high.
As you can see, it’s not a case of prebiotic vs probiotic. The two work in tandem helping our bodies stay balanced, healthy and well.
Can you take prebiotics and probiotics together?
It is generally considered safe to take prebiotics and probiotics together; doing so is called ‘microbiome therapy’.
There is currently no evidence to suggest that taking prebiotics and probiotics at the same time is harmful.
However, if you are thinking about taking prebiotic and probiotic supplements, then it is best to check in with your doctor or healthcare provider first — particularly if you have a chronic disease or more serious health condition. They will be able to advise you further.
It’s easy to get enough prebiotics in your diet because they are types of fiber found in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and pulses. If you’re eating a varied diet with a range of different high-fiber foods, then you’re likely to be getting enough prebiotic fiber anyway.
Foods that are high in prebiotic fiber include:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Chicory root
All of these prebiotic foods are high in the type of fibre you need to support your digestive health. Including a variety of these in your diet will help to feed the friendly bacteria in your gut and help with digestion.
Fermented foods, made in the traditional manner with active or live cultures, may contain probiotics. Some foods, such as dairy products, may be supplemented with specific probiotic strains, as noted on the label.
Here are some fermented foods that you can add to your diet:
- Yogurt Kefir, both dairy and non-dairy (a fermented probiotic drink)
- Miso soup or paste
- Kombucha (a fermented tea drink)
- Tempeh (a fermented soybean patty)
- Pickled vegetables e.g. gherkins or pickled cucumbers
- Traditional buttermilk
- Some types of cheese
Introduce a new fermented food gradually and enjoy consuming as part of a balanced, varied diet.
Prebiotics and probiotics supplements
If you don’t think you’re getting enough prebiotics and probiotics, you may want to consider adding some supplements to your diet.
Probiotics come in a few different forms — as tablets, capsules, nutritional powders, drinks or special yogurts.
BOOST OPTIMUM is a nutritionally balanced powder supplement that contains probiotics as well as other nutrients you need, such as protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. BOOST OPTIMUM with added probiotic can help to support a healthy gut and maintain digestive health.
Prebiotic supplements are more unusual. This may be because prebiotics are easy to get from fiber sources in our diets; if you’re eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, grains and pulses, then you’ll be getting the amount of prebiotic fibers you need.
As with adding any new supplements to your daily routine, it is a good idea to check with your doctor or health care provider first. If you have a chronic health condition or existing illness, they will be able to let you know how to proceed, and whether you are able to take prebiotics and probiotics supplements.