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Probiotics And Prebiotics: What's the difference?

Written by GHBY Team on Fri, 11 November 2022

Key Highlights

  • Probiotics are living organisms that can balance the ratio of good and bacteria in the gut.
  • Prebiotics are fibrous food sources for good bacteria.
  • Bifidobacteria and lactobacillus are the main types of probiotics.
  • Galacto-oligosaccharides, Fructans, and some others are types of prebiotics.
  • Kimchi, yogurt, kefir, kombucha tea, and buttermilk are some examples of probiotics-rich food items.
  • Garlic, onion, nuts, banana, and oats are examples of prebiotics-rich food items.
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In the world of health, the terms 'probiotics' and 'prebiotics' are thrown around pretty casually. However, while oft used, not many seem to know the difference between diff between pre and probiotics.

Read on to understand both the terms in detail and what makes them different from each other.

Probiotics

What are probiotics? Probiotics are live microorganisms found in foods or supplements that help to maintain or improve the 'good' bacteria in the body.

Probiotics help to digest food and maintain a balance between good and bad bacteria. They are also sometimes called the 'friendly' bacteria.

Types of probiotics

The most commonly-consumed probiotics are from two main genera:

1. Bifidobacteria

This bacteria is found in foods and supplements to support the immune system and inhibit the growth of bad bacteria.

2. Lactobacillus

This genus of bacteria mostly produces lactase, the enzyme that is responsible for the breakdown of lactose in milk sugar. These bacteria also produce lactic acid which helps to control bad bacteria.
There are 6 common species of probiotics in food and supplements.
Common species of probiotics:

  •  B. animalis
  •  B. breve
  •  B. lactis
  •  B. longum
  •  L. acidophilus
  •  L. reuteri

(Where B. and L. are abbreviations of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.)

Benefits of probiotics

Probiotics improve:

  • Digestive health
  • Mental health
  • Gastrointestinal health
  • General health

Probiotic-rich foods

If you feel you have disturbed digestion you may want to include probiotics in your diet. There is no need to add supplements. You can just add some regular food items that contain probiotics to your meal.

Some easily available food items are:

  • Yogurt

Eating yogurt helps in many ways. It improves bone health and reduces diarrhea caused by antibiotics.

  • Cheese

Cheese is made by fermentation process but all cheese does not have probiotics. Fermented cheese such as swiss, gouda, cheddar, and cottage cheese have probiotics.

  • Buttermilk

Buttermilk is another probiotic-rich food that has low fat and calories and is rich in vitamins and minerals such as vitamin B12, calcium, and phosphorus.

  • Kimchi

Kimchi is flavored with mixed seasoning, cabbage, and some vegetables. It is a fermented dish that contains lactic acid bacteria.

  • Kombucha tea

Kombucha is a fermented green tea. It is fermented using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, called SCOBY.

  • Kefir

Kefir is a fermented milk drink. Kefir grains are not cereals, they have lactic acid bacteria. It improves bone health and helps with digestive issues.

  • Tempeh

Tempeh is fermented soybean. Soybean has phytic acid and minerals like zinc.

Fermentation makes pickles sour. Usually, they have lactic acid bacteria. They are a good source of vitamin K.

If you are going to have fermented foods make sure they are not pasteurized because this process kills good bacteria.

Prebiotics

What are prebiotics? A non-digestible food item that enhances the health of the host by selectively encouraging the growth and/or activity of one or a small number of bacteria in the colon.

Prebiotics are substances in the form of carbs that the human gut can not digest. That act as food to the beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics are used to improve the balance of this microflora.

Beneficial gut microorganisms ferment non-digestible dietary elements known as prebiotics and get their energy by decomposing indigestible prebiotic bonds. The advantage of prebiotics has a link to the probiotic benefits.

Type of Prebiotics

  • Galacto-oligosaccharides
  • Fructans
  • Starch and Glucose-Derived Oligosaccharides
  • Other Oligosaccharides
  • Non-Carbohydrate Oligosaccharides

Benefits of prebiotics to the body

  • It improves calcium absorption.
  • Modifying the rate at which the body processes carbohydrates.
  • Promoting the growth of probiotic bacteria in the stomach, and potentially improving digestion and metabolism.

People do not need to take prebiotic supplements because prebiotics is found naturally in many foods.

Foods

Prebiotics are plant fibers that have been modified to act as prebiotics. They serve as fertilizers in the stomach, encouraging the growth of beneficial microorganisms.
Food that is high in prebiotic fibers includes:

  • Oats, Barley, Bran

These all contain fibers that have antioxidant, immune-boosting properties.

  • Banana

Banana has natural fibers that help increase good bacteria and reduce gas and bloating.

  • Nuts

Nuts are high in fiber like almonds, pistachio nuts, and flaxseeds.

  • Garlic

Garlic is a source of prebiotics that improves the growth of good bacteria in the gut.

  • Onions

Onions are good sources of prebiotics, they help in digestion, and have good antioxidant properties.

  • Leeks

They are also a good source of prebiotics. They are members of the onion family.

  • Beans, Peas, and Legumes

Beans and legumes are good sources of prebiotics. Beans can boost gut health by increasing good bacteria. Also, beans are high in protein.

Conclusion

Probiotics vs prebiotics is a long and interesting debate. The difference between probiotics and prebiotics is in their composition and methods of preparation.

Prebiotics are fibers that the human gut cannot digest so they will help good bacteria to grow.

Probiotics are living organisms that balance gut bacteria and improve gut health. Probiotics are gut-friendly bacteria; and both are essential for a healthy, happy gut.

To know more about nutrition, click here.

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GHBY Team

GHBY Team comprises content writers and content editors who specialise in health and lifestyle writing. Always on the lookout for new trends in the health and lifestyle space, Team GHBY follows an audience-first approach. This ensures they bring the latest in the health space to your fingertips, so you can stay ahead in your wellness game. 
 

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  1. Davani-Davari D, et al. Foods. 2019 Mar;8(3):92.
  2. Markowiak P, et al. Nutrients. 2017 Sep;9(9):1021.
  3. Prebiotics, probiotics and your health available at https://www.mayoclinic.org/prebiotics-probiotics-and-your-health/art-20390058
  4. Probiotics are available at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/14598-probiotics#