March 13, 2019 6 min read

What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics and what is the role that they play in our health and wellbeing?

What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are the indigestible fiber that you get from parts of certain foods such as bananas, the skin of an apple, onions, and garlic. This fiber passes through the small intestine without being digested and is left to ferment in the large intestine. It serves as a beneficial component for our digestive system as the fermentation process provides the bacteria colonies in our gut with food and it also helps in increasing the number of desirable bacteria in our digestive system.

Because prebiotics act as fertilizers for the growth of the gut bacteria or gut flora, it is incredibly important that we get a good amount of these specialized plant fibers in order for our gut to remain in tiptop shape. They are especially abundant in vegetables and fruits that are a resource for complex carbohydrates and these carbohydrates that cannot be digested by the body are then used to feed the desired bacteria in our gut instead.

Apples are a good source of indigestible fiber and prebiotics

Honing the gut bacteria is very important because it helps in controlling the body’s capacity to fight inflammations and send signals to your immune system when there is an impending threat to the body. They also promote the strengthening of the gut barrier system in the colon that is a big part in the initial protective reaction of the body against viruses and bad bacteria that may cause harmful diseases.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are the live beneficial bacteria that naturally occurs in the fermentation process of food such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and the like. Probiotics have the capacity to help improve our overall health by ensuring that our digestive system is working at its optimum capacity which in turn boosts our immune system. Probiotics are also helpful in maintaining a smooth digestive process in our bodies.

Fermented food products are high in probiotics

Eating high quality fermented food products ensures that you get a good amount of the beneficial live probiotic bacteria. There are food sources that contain something calledsynbiotic bacteria wherein both prebiotic and probiotic bacteria are present in the food. Synbiotics such as prebiotics and probiotics have a synergistic function that allows certain prebiotics to favor a particular probiotic bacteria which then helps to populate this bacteria even more. An example of this is sauerkraut which has the benefit of providing both the prebiotic and probiotic bacteria that the body needs in order to boost gut health. It is also important for thefermented food that you consume to have not gone through any type of pasteurization process whereby it is exposed to high levels of heat because it kills off any living bacteria in the product itself.

Probiotics pertain to the existence of healthy and live organisms that add to the healthy bacteria population in your gut. There are many types of strains that makes up the probiotic family and people can benefit greatly from having the right strains included in their normal diet. It is important to ensure that a person who decides to take probiotic supplements have been given proper consultation guidelines because there are people who should not take additional probiotic supplements because of an already high number of bacteria in the small intestine or because they are sensitive to certain ingredients that may have been used in the supplement.

Sources of Prebiotics and Probiotics

Prebioticscan be derived from indigestible plant fiber that passes through our gut and serves as a source of food for the healthy bacteria in our digestive system all the way to our large intestine where they are left to ferment and become food for probiotics. Some of the plants where you can get prebiotics from are easy to source and you may actually be eating them on a regular basis without knowing how good they are for your gut. It is important to be mindful of how these plants have been grown as theorganically grown produce are the ones that assure a good source of prebiotics.

Chicory Root- this plant not only contains the prebiotics that our body needs, it also has antioxidant properties that help in reducing inflammation and has also been proven to be helpful in decreasing blood sugar level. The inulin fiber that it contains is the prebiotic strain that helps in feeding and nourishing the gut bacteria colonies that are present in our digestive system.

Jerusalem Artichoke- apart from the prebiotic content of jerusalem artichokes, it also has the capacity to lower bad cholesterol levels, reduce and prevent inflammations in the body, and has high levels of potassium which is crucial for those with diets that content high levels of sodium.

Chicory root is high in antioxidants and is a good source of prebiotics

Jerusalem artichokes can help lower bad cholesterol in the body

Garlic is well-known for its medicinal properties

Garlic- garlic is a well-known herb that has incredible medicinal properties. When eaten raw, it also serves as a good source of prebiotics for the gut. It is highly nutritious and has capability of reducing blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, and in providing antioxidants that can possibly prevent early onset dementia and alzheimer's disease

Onions- onions carry a huge amount of prebiotics whether they are consumed raw or cooked. The allyl propyl disulphide, which is the essential oil found in onions, has been found to help reduce glucose levels in the body by replacing the space occupied by insulin in the liver since insulin is also another form of disulphide. Onions have also been found to be an incredibly heart-friendly food that helps in reducing instances of hardened arteries and helps in maintaining blood pressure.

Onions are a great source of prebiotics whether they're raw or cooked

Leeks are a popular garnish for food with prebiotic benefits

Bananas contain both insoluble and soluble fiber

Leeks- probably one of the most delicious garnishes that you find on food but is often overlooked, leeks offer a good amount of prebiotics in them and also has the added health punch of containing antioxidants and antibacterial properties which help in maintaining healthy liver functions through the reduction of liver enzymes and liver triglyceride accumulation which leads to fatty liver.

Bananas- are naturally pre-packaged which makes it as an excellent source of prebiotics when you’re on the go. Not only does it contain the insoluble fiber that is needed as a source of prebiotics, it also has soluble fiber that helps in slowing down digestion and leaves you feeling fuller and more satisfied. It is also a great source of potassium and iron which helps in regulating blood pressure and in fending off anemia.

Probioticscan be found in a lot of fermented food items. While supplements are widely available for different strains of probiotics and with differing levels of live strains available within the supplement, it is still best to consume them from fermented food items because the possibility of an imbalance of strains can be avoided. We’ve compiled alist of fermented food products that you can enjoy that are not only incredibly nutritious, but also contains probiotics which are sure to help in keeping your gut healthy.

Getting Both

Because we will always be a species that enjoys food, keeping our digestive system healthy is definitely one of the things that we need to always keep a close eye on. The need to ingest more digestive-friendly food products is not only beneficial to our digestive health, but it is also crucial in ensuring that our immune system gets all the help it can get from one of the initial barriers that our body has against diseases and infections.

Our health is one of the best investments that we can possibly make and it also has one of the most long term benefits that will not only be good news for us but for our families as well. Choosing the right food and the right sources of nutrients for our bodies is something that we should always prioritize and something that we should always be mindful of whenever we plan our meals. Our body is our home, there is nowhere else we can live other than in it and it is our duty to take care of it the best way we can.

Taking care of your gut means taking care of the rest of your body