The Key Difference Between Probiotics And Prebiotics

prebiotic food

I’m sure you are familiar with probiotics by now, at least by name, but what about prebiotics? Maybe they don’t sound so familiar.

Probiotics are the different species of “good” bacteria that normally live in our digestive tracts. More and more science is coming out to show that not only are these little guys essential in general but that they can be used therapeutically for a range of health concerns, such as IBS, inflammatory disorders, and infections.

The Benefits Of Prebiotics

Simply put the difference between probiotics and prebiotics is that prebiotics are what probiotics eat.

Probiotics are living creatures after all, and they too need fuel to thrive. And prebiotics is that fuel!

Prebiotics are usually some sort of carbohydrate – either a shorter chain of sugars or a longer more complex chain like fiber.

Many probiotic supplements will include prebiotics in them, to keep the bacteria alive, and to give them a “care package” when they start their journey into your intestines. Most often you will see the prebiotics labeled as FOS, or fructooligosaccharides.

You can also get prebiotics from the diet, and you don’t even need to focus on them exclusively to achieve adequacy.

A healthy, whole foods diet that is rich in veggies, fruit, and fiber will have an overall beneficial effect on your health, but also the health of your good bacteria since they will provide them a source of fuel to survive.

benefits of prebiotics

Some top sources of prebiotics foods include:

  • Whole grains
  • Root veggies like onions, garlic, leeks, sweet potato, potato skins, jicama, carrots, etc
  • Leafy greens, especially bitter ones like endive, radicchio, and dandelion greens
  • Other fruit and veg like asparagus, bananas, and avocados

A diet that is high in sugar and simple carbohydrates (like bread and pasta) however can become problematic.

A healthy digestive tract has mainly good bacteria populating it, which keeps the bad guys in check. A high carb diet is a free-for-all buffet and starts encouraging the growth of the bad bacteria as well, which can lead to what is called dysbiosis – a bacterial imbalance that causes issues like inflammation and digestive disturbances.

Who can take prebiotics?

While it may sound like an excellent idea to always have FOS or a similar prebiotic in your probiotic supplement, it may not be right for everyone.

For a generally healthy person it doesn’t really matter if the probiotics have a prebiotic included so long as they’re eating well, but for someone who suffers from certain digestive conditions like celiac, IBS, or IBD, the difference can be huge.

Often these conditions are associated with sensitivities to carbohydrates and sugar, which will be aggravated by a prebiotic supplement. In such a case, FOS-free probiotics supplements are necessary.

Read: The Many Benefits Of Probiotics

Otherwise, if those sensitivities don’t exist, anyone can take them – babies, children, and pregnant/lactating women included!

Overall, my advice about prebiotics boils down to what it is for so many other things.

Try to eat as well as you possibly can. With a focus on vegetables, various proteins, good fats, complex carbohydrates (high fiber), and low sugar, you really can’t go wrong!
Chat to a healthcare practitioner for further advice on whether a probiotic supplement is right for you, and whether it should contain prebiotics, especially if you have digestive issues.