Probiotic’s and Prebiotic’s…Whats the Difference?

Gut bacteria is a hot topic in nutrition right now, and for very good reason. I’m sure we’ve all heard people say “Why are there so many food allergies and intolerances today? It never used to be this way?” Well no, it didn’t. But in industrialised countries, where chemical stressors abound, we seem to be decimating our gut microbiome and it comes at a great cost. Studies have shown that in isolated tribes in places like Venezuela or Papua New Guinea, they have a far greater variety of bacterial species thriving in their intestines. While we have been trained to think bacteria is bad, in this case it’s a very good thing.

While nobody is knocking our sanitation practices, or our preference for reducing bacterial dispersion, it seems this could be a cause for big alterations in the gut microbiome. Poor gut bacteria is linked to food allergies, asthma, diabetes and other things, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

On the flip side, strong, diverse gut bacteria is linked to better immune systems, better carbohydrate metabolism, mood, cognitive health, healing, recovery from injury or inflammation, hormonal health and more.  

If you’ve been told by your primary health practitioner, or by the wisdom of the internet, that you need to be on a probiotic or a prebiotic, this can be confusing. You might get to your chemist, get faced with a wall of pill bottles and immediately get confused: “Did they say pre? Or pro? Which is which?”

The easy answer? You need both. You need strong, diverse gut bacteria in order to be healthy, hence the probiotics. Your gut bacteria need something to feed on, and fibre is what they like to eat. This is what prebiotics are – Fibre that comes from types of carbs that humans can’t digest. The good gut bacteria eat it right up.

Do you want to get your whole body rocking like it should? Here’s where you can find them.

Where do you get your PROs from?

Probiotics can be found in certain foods or supplements. In terms of supplements, there can be big questions over whether you should buy refrigerated or non-refrigerated probiotics. There’s a bit of a difference:

  • Non-refrigerated probiotics have a longer shelf life, slower declining bacteria levels, and lower sensitivity to temperature changes.
  • Refrigerated probiotics are often stronger, and it is thought that variations in packaging, temperature and humidity can affect the viability of a probiotic before its taken. Too much heat will kill the delicate bacteria. Humidity and moisture is what activates bacteria, and you want that to happen in your stomach, not in the bottle. So we usually recommend a refrigerated probiotic (like one from Bioceuticals. Amazing.)

But probiotics can also be found in foods. You might have heard of some of these:

  • Kombucha
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Yoghurt
  • Kimchi
  • Pickles
  • Traditional buttermilk

These are just some examples. Basically, fermented foods are a go-to for food-based probiotics. Not everything fermented is a probiotic though – Beer is not a probiotic. Sorry.

Where do you get your PREs from?

As mentioned, prebiotics come from carbs that your body can’t digest. No, this doesn’t mean you go chowing down on cardboard. It means you find the types of food that your gut bacteria needs. They need to include short chain fatty acids like butyrate, acetate, and propionate.

You can absolutely get a supplement for your prebiotics. But there is also a plethora of yummy foods that your body will get a lot of good out of, and they happen to be packed with prebiotic goodness, too. Here are some:

  • Garlic
  • Leek
  • Onion
  • Bananas
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Chicory root
  • Barely
  • Oats
  • Apples
  • Cocoa
  • Flaxseeds
  • Wheat bran
  • Seaweed
  • If you’re looking for a prebiotic supplement look for one with ‘Oligosaccharides’ and minimal other ingredients.

Some of those sound pretty yummy to me! Why not make some chia pudding for breakfast, and top it with grated apple and chopped banana on top? Sprinkle in some cocoa and you might even get this thing kid-approved. (check out our recipes for some more ideas)

Supplements are a great way to add to your diet, but by all means they are to be taken in ADDITION to Healthy food.

It won’t just be your tummy that thanks you for it. Your whole body benefits when your gut is doing well.

Bon Appetit

Dr Anthea



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