Probiotics VS Prebiotics: Everything You Need To Know
Did you know that GOOD bacteria is a huge component of gut health? A common misconception is that all bacteria are “bad” and can lead to infections or diseases. Believe it or not, our bodies actually need both types of bacteria to function properly! In fact, there are TRILLIONS – yes trillions – of beneficial bacteria lining our digestive tracts that impact digestion and even cognitive function. Two important components – prebiotics and probiotics – help maintain a diverse environment of bacteria, also known as the gut microbiome. Today I’m going to explain the difference between probiotics and prebiotics, their role in digestive health, as well as how we can incorporate both into our diets with whole foods!
What Are Prebiotics?
Think of PREbiotics as the fuel that activates PRObiotics. Basically, in order for probiotics to function properly, it’s important to incorporate enough prebiotics, a type of fiber, into our diets. So where do prebiotics come from? Luckily, there are many whole foods that double as prebiotics. You’ve probably been eating some prebiotics without even knowing it!
Some common examples are:
- Fruits: underripe bananas, berries, tomatoes
- Vegetables: artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onions, legumes
- Grains: uncooked oats
The Power of Probiotics
In a nutshell, probiotics are responsible for balancing the good and bad bacteria in our guts. Although it’s common for individuals to take probiotics supplements, it’s totally unnecessary – you can get all the probiotics you need through these foods alone! Fermented foods and dairy are an excellent source of probiotics. These foods contain live cultures to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in our digestive tracts.
Here are some great examples:
- Fermented foods: sauerkraut, pickles, kimchi, miso
- Dairy: cottage cheese, kefir, yogurt
Now let’s talk about the good stuff – health benefits! Probiotics and prebiotics:
- Support overall digestive health and relieve common symptoms of digestive upset (gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea)
- Boost the immune system: the presence of beneficial bacteria in the gut helps to fight infection
- Maintain heart health: probiotics help lower blood pressure and LDL cholesterol (the bad stuff)
- Aid healthy cognitive function: the brain actually communicates with our digestive system – this is called the brain-gut connection. In this way, prebiotics and probiotics alike can contribute to reduced stress levels by controlling the release of cortisol, a stress hormone.
Where to Begin?
Now that you know the basics of prebiotics and probiotics, here is what you can do right now to start improving your digestive health
- Introduce whole-foods sources of prebiotics and probiotics into your diet (like the ones mentioned in this blog post!)
- Diversify your diet (AKA eat lots of different things!)
- Don’t stress! Try your best to eat a nutritious, balanced diet that works for YOU.