Prebiotics vs probiotics: What’s the difference?
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What's the difference, plus how you can add prebiotics and probiotics to your diet.
You may have been told to take probiotics to improve your gut health. Maybe you've heard people talk about increasing their prebiotics foods. If you're confused about what the words probiotic and prebiotic actually mean, you're not alone. In this guide, we set the record straight to explain the difference between prebiotics and probiotics as well as how you can add them into your diet.
What's the difference?
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are the "good" bacteria naturally found in our digestive tract and may be naturally present in fermented foods, have strains added to certain foods (or drinks) or be in a supplement form.
What are the benefits?
Probiotics help keep our digestive tract healthy via a number of different functions. Different types of probiotics have different outcomes on the body. For example, some types of probiotics may help with mental health conditions, whilst others are better for the skin condition eczema. The probiotics you consume in foods or supplements are transported to your gut. However, the acidity of the stomach means some of these probiotics don't take hold and pass straight through the digestive tract. It has been shown that probiotics are usually sensitive to pH levels below 3, with some of the more commonly used probiotics stable to a pH of 2.5, for no longer than 4 hours.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are the fibres which feed the good bacteria in our digestive tract. We like to think of them as the fuel for our gut microbes. There are a few different types of prebiotic rich fibre, with the most commonly discussed called resistant starch. You know the stuff which stays in your pan when you cook pasta? That's resistant starch, and our good gut bugs love it!
Other types of prebiotics come from fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). If you are familiar with the low FODMAP diet, you may be aware that both fructans and GOS come under the umbrella of high FODMAP foods.
Why are prebiotics so good for our gut microbes?
When we eat prebiotics, they are digested and fermented by the healthy bacteria in our gut. As a result of this fermentation process, a number of by-products are formed. The most common of these are called short chain fatty acids (SCFA). These have the ability to change the environment of our digestive tract, and provide a health protective effect. For example, production of the SCFA Butyrate has been shown to reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Prebiotics not only have protective effects on the gastrointestinal system but also on other parts of the body, such as the central nervous system, immune system and cardiovascular system.
What foods contain pre and probiotics?
You may commonly associate probiotics with the capsules you can buy from the chemist but they can also be found in food. As with many nutrients, it's recommended to consume food rather than supplements unless advised by a medical professional.
Some foods that contain probiotics include fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir and miso. This is because the good bacteria that we want to look after in our guts are responsible for the fermentation of these foods.
Sources of prebiotics include cooked and cooled potato (similar to the pasta discussed previously), just ripe banana, wholegrains such as barley and oats (soaking them makes them even more resistant starchy), legumes such as chickpeas, and certain vegetables such as onion, asparagus and artichoke.
How can I add prebiotics and probiotics into my diet?
Adding pre and probiotics to your diet may seem daunting at first, but here are our favourite ways to add them into our meals!
- Top your salads and burrito bowls with sauerkraut or kimchee.
- Add sauerkraut or kimchee to your sandwiches.
- Drink kombucha (such as Remedy or Mojo) when you are feeling like something other than water.
- Try out a miso eggplant recipe for dinner one night this week.
- Top your breakfast cereal with some natural or Greek yoghurt (such as Jalna, Barambah or Chobani).
- Make a smoothie with some kefir instead of milk alone (using Babushka or The Culture Co).
- Add onion and garlic to your meals for extra flavour.
- Add bananas to your cereal, smoothies or even make some banana bread.
- Have overnight oats for breakfast – soaking the oats increases the amount of resistant starch by 37 times.
- Add some cooked and cooled rice or pasta to a salad.
- Eat potato salad with cooked and cooled potatoes.
- Be sure to include wholegrains in your meals. This could include oats for breakfast or adding some cooked barley to your salads.
- Eat a variety of different vegetables. Not only is this great for your prebiotic intake but it will also help you to reach your three a day.
Why consume both?
It is important to consume not just probiotics, but plenty of prebiotic rich foods for optimal gut health too. Probiotics may be useful in some instances with each type of probiotic being good for different things. For example, we know lactobacillus rhamnosus is good for eczema, whilst lactobacillus plantarum helps maintain intestinal permeability. Whilst prebiotics provide the fuel for the healthy bacteria in the gut.
Ensuring to include a diverse array of different fibre rich foods, and probiotics on an as required basis, will provide the best outcomes for optimising your gut health.
Common probiotics brands
If you're considering speaking to your doctor about taking a probiotic supplement, here are some of the most popular options on the Australian market to discuss with them.
Note: These are all non-refrigerated probiotics as refrigerated supplements can only be purchased in-store.
Life Space Broad Spectrum Probiotic
Renew Life, Ultimate Flora Probiotic
Ethical Nutrients Inner Health Plus
Written by Chloe McLeod and Jessica Spendlove
Chloe McLeod is an Advanced Sports Dietitian and co-owner of Health & Performance Collective, a nutrition consultancy business that works with individuals, sports teams and corporates who want to live and perform at their best. Chloe specialises in gut health, food intolerance and sports nutrition. She is one of Australia's most well known and sought after nutrition professionals, with her portfolio including food industry, media, elite teams, high performing companies and individuals.
Jessica Spendlove is an Advanced Sports Dietitian and one of the co-owners of Health & Performance Collective, a nutrition consultancy business that helps individuals, sports teams and corporates live and perform at their best. Jess particularly specialises in working with motivated individuals in both professional sports and the corporate environment. Her current portfolio includes the GWS Giants, Giants Netball, Sydney Kings, Cronulla Sharks and New South Wales Waratahs.
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