Probiotics vs. Prebiotics
What are probiotics, prebiotics and what is the difference between them? Both sound very similar, but be careful, they are fundamentally different. What role do they have in our body? Is it worth supplementing them?
Our gut microbiome undoubtedly plays a very important role in our healthy digestive tract and overall immunity. The gut microbiome refers to the sum of all microorganisms living in our intestines.
These organisms are primarily beneficial to health, but some can be harmful. According to experts, there are up to 500 types of microorganisms in our intestines, of which there are up to one hundred trillion.
According to research, intestinal microflora is related to diet and regular exercise, which can influence it to some extent. The gut microbiome is unique in each person and is influenced by many factors. It is absolutely essential to understand that probiotic supplementation is very individual.
Let’s first introduce probiotics. A probiotic is a living part of food that, when consumed in sufficient quantities, has an effect on the health of the consumer.
Probiotics occur naturally in the human digestive tract. Among the most well-known genera of bacteria are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Streptococcus, or yeasts of the genus Saccharomyces.
Products in which you can find enough probiotics are, for example:
✅ Dairy products – ideally acidified ones, such as kefir and acidophilic milk, buttermilk or full-fat yogurt. In addition, maturing cheeses such as sheep’s bryndza, niva, gorgonzola or fetta are also a great source.
✅ Fermented vegetables – kimchi, cucumbers, or cabbage
✅ Tempeh, natto, and other fermented soy products
✅ Sourdough bread
In contrast, prebiotics is simply food and substrate for probiotics. They are indigestible oligosaccharides, better known as fiber, that stimulate the growth or activity of certain bacteria, bifidobacteria, which have a positive effect on human health.
We can find representatives of prebiotics in:
✅ Fruits that are rich in pectin and inulin – i.e. apples and bananas
✅ Chicory – in the form of chicory syrup (a healthier option for sweetening), some manufacturers also add it to their protein bars, for example.
✅ Vegetables that are usually considered to be aromatic – typical examples are asparagus, onions, or garlic, which are extremely rich in inulin, and have antibacterial and antiviral effects.
We can often come across the term synbiotic in conjunction with probiotics and prebiotics. This is a combination of prebiotics and probiotics, and according to expert research, the best effects occur when synbiotics are administered – the probiotic effect is supported by prebiotics and probiotics, and they have a better chance of reaching the large intestine, where they are used.
There are really many options where we can get synbiotics from our daily foods. You just simply combine foods with probiotics and prebiotics as you like. A great choice is, for example, a smoothie with full-fat yogurt and a banana or tempeh with vegetables, which will give your microbiome everything it needs.
IS IT WORTH SUPPLEMENTING PROBIOTICS?
The term “probiotic” includes an unimaginable number of different strains of bacteria, each of which works slightly differently. In the same way, the resulting effect is influenced by the tablet’s resistance to gastric juices and the quality of the probiotics represented. And what do the scientific studies say?
Supplementation with probiotics can, for example, have an effect on shortening the time required for the recovery of certain diseases, it also seems that the positive effect associated with probiotics lasts only for the duration of their supplementation – the body cannot accumulate them in advance, so it is like with all vitamins and minerals.
When you have the right nutritional habits, I don’t think additional supplementation with probiotics or any other supplements is necessary.
Therefore, the use of probiotics is recommended when taking antibiotics, which can reduce the negative damage to the microbiome.
Likewise in the period when we need a strong immune system. Last but not least, probiotics are used preventively when traveling to exotic places such as Turkey, Tunisia, or Egypt, to prevent digestive problems in the form of Pharaoh’s curse.
If possible, try to prefer foods that really contain enough fiber and healthy bacteria. Supplementation with probiotics or prebiotics is certainly not necessary under normal circumstances.
Top 5 probiotic foods that should be part of your daily diet:
- Kefir – is similar to yogurt, but because it is fermented and contains more bacteria, it contains less lactose and a higher amount of probiotics.
- Kombucha – a sparkling drink that is made from black or green tea and a kombucha mushroom called a SCOBY. Kombucha has many benefits for the body – the main benefits include a beneficial effect on digestion and metabolism, detoxification of the liver, can help reduce high cholesterol levels, and much more.
- White yogurt – contains lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Yogurts made from cow’s, sheep’s, or goat’s milk are among the top probiotic foods, especially when they contain live cultures and are in unpasteurized form.
- Fermented vegetables – Fermented foods act as natural probiotics and contain high amounts of enzymes that support digestion. They are rich in group B vitamins, vitamin K2 and above all vitamins C and A. They increase immunity and help absorb minerals and other nutrients from food.
- Tempeh – is a fermented soy product native to Indonesia and is another amazing source of probiotics. Similar to tofu, it is based on soybeans.
Hi! I am Karolina, a nutritionist, fitness trainer, and a master's student at the Faculty of Physical Education and Sports, based in Prague, Czech Republic. I have been dedicated to a healthy lifestyle for about 7 years and today it is a substantial part of my life and work. What I love most about my job is that I can help people on their way to their goals, whether it's better and healthier eating or performing in sports. I believe you will enjoy reading my posts and learning something new about a healthy and fit lifestyle.