Wellness Encyclopedia: Probiotics vs. Prebiotics (And Why You Need Both)

Adding pro- and prebiotic foods to your diet is incredible, and the rewards are well worth the little effort involved…

Quick: How are you feeling today? Take a quick mental scan, I’ll wait.

So? How’s everything doing?

Maybe you feel great (I certainly hope you do). But perhaps you’re feeling a little off. Are you bloated? Or experiencing a bit of brain fog? Maybe your immune system has felt weak lately or you slept poorly last night and are having a tough time shaking it off. We’ve all been there. But it wasn’t until fairly recently that a connection was drawn between the symptoms listed above and the bacteria chilling out in our guts. Things like poor diet, a round of antibiotics, and a stressful lifestyle can all take their toll of our bodies, resulting in imbalanced gut bacteria and a host of nasty symptoms that can persist for weeks and sometimes years. Over the past few years, more and more research has shown that a diet rich in probiotic foods and high quality probiotic supplements goes far beyond aiding in digestion. Along with processing the food we eat, our digestive tracts houses 80% of the immune system, and weakened immunity can wreak havoc on all areas of the body. Unfortunately, taking a daily probiotic or drinking some kombucha isn’t enough. Like any living organism, all that good bacteria we’re getting through probiotic foods and supplements needs to be nourished. With prebiotics. It may sound complicated, but adding pro- and prebiotic foods to your diet is incredible and the rewards are well worth the little effort involved. Today we’re discussing the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics, how to tell the difference (it’s easy), and why you need both.

What are they? Probiotics are pretty recognizable. Perhaps you’re heard of superstar strains Lactobacillus or Bifidobacterium? Found in probiotic supplements and in fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, kvass, and natto, these strains (and more) of beneficial bacteria take up residence in the gut and help the body absorb nutrients, break down food, and ward off infection (fun fact: there are more bacteria in the gut than there are cells in your body). When everything is functioning properly, the good bacteria in your gut overtakes the bad, creating enzymes that destroy bad bacteria, yeast and other enzymes. Before modern agriculture, antibiotics and chlorinated water, our bodies had no trouble producing the bacteria we needed, but now our digestive tracts could use a little help, which is why it’s important to intentionally add probiotics to your routine, either through the probiotic-rich foods listed here or a high quality supplement.

But if we’re feeding ourselves all that good bacteria… who is feeding the bacteria? Like any living thing, probiotic bacteria has to eat to stay healthy and strong, which is where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics are a special type of fibre, called oligosaccharides, found in certain fruits and vegetables. Oligosaccharides are a type of fibre that can’t be broken down by digestive enzymes or gastric acid; instead, they make their way to the gut where they’re feasted upon by the good bacteria, increasing their numbers and effectiveness. Probiotics are great on their own, but add in prebiotics and they become superpowered, allowing our bodies even more nutrient absorption and boosting overall health. Prebiotics are found in vegetables like raw asparagus, green bananas, garlic, leeks, kale, onion, dandelion greens, and jicama.

What are the benefits? Because 80% of the immune system is located in the gut and has the power to influence all systems in the body, probiotics can help improve overall wellbeing and some very specific symptoms. The first thing you may notice after beginning a new probiotic regimen is decreased bloating. Probiotics help breakdown and process the food we eat, aiding in intestinal motility (elimination) and gastric acid production, which decreases gas while improving digestion overall. Adding more probiotic-rich fermented foods or supplements to your diet may also help clear up acne and other skin issues such as eczema while improving immunity across the board, as these conditions are often tied to immune response and probiotics boost immune function. You may feel more awake and energetic, as probiotics help produce the vitamins B12 and K2, and help kill off candida overgrowth, which can cause low energy, bad breath, and yeast overgrowth.

Adding prebiotic foods to your diet will help the good bacteria in your system function at optimal levels while delivering a hearty dose of added vitamins, minerals and nutrients to your system. And because the good bacteria will be working so efficiently, they’ll deliver these nutrients faster right where they’re needed.

How do I use them? First and foremost, if you’re planning on adding a supplement to your wellness routine, it’s important to find the probiotic that works best for you. When looking for a probiotic supplement, seek out a high quality brand that contains at least 80 billion CFUs (colony forming units) and at least 10 different strains of bacteria — you want the bacteria to make it past the gastric acid in your stomach and be able to diversify once they reach your gut. If you have specific health concerns, do some research beforehand to find out which strains are especially helpful in treating specific needs.

Even if you’re taking a probiotic supplement, it’s always a good idea to add plenty of probiotic-rich foods to your diet. This helps add biodiversity to your gut bacteria, while delivering additional nutrients. Go for “sour” foods such as unfiltered apple cider vinegar, plain kefir (water, coconut or traditional organic dairy), plain yogurt (look for “live and active cultures” over “active cultures” — you want ‘em moving and shaking), kombucha, and kimchi. Avoid “fermented” foods that contain large amounts of added sugar, like sugary yogurts, as candida and yeast feed off these added sugars, exacerbating the problem, some naturally-occurring sugars, like those present in yogurt and kombucha are OK. If need be, add some fruit or nuts for a little extra flavor.

Prebiotic foods are the easiest part. Opt for fibre-rich vegetables, such as jicama, kale, leeks, onions, dandelion greens, underripe bananas, asparagus, garlic, broccoli, Jerusalem artichoke, and go raw whenever possible.

+ Be sure to check out more Wellness Encyclopedia posts!

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This information is not intended to treat, diagnose or prevent any disease or issue. 
Please seek your doctor’s advice for any questions regarding a specific condition and before beginning any exercise, diet or health-related regimen.

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Thank you for constantly giving us information about wellness – so helpful!

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

6 years ago

Love this!

I’m going to be totally honest, I don’t even think I knew they were two completely different things! Thanks for this valuable info, about to go get some kombucha!

6 years ago

Great post!



6 years ago

I love yoga, from the first time I met my yogamat and with some longer breaks I realize how much good it does for me and my life, I decided to inspire my own practise and inspire others who want to – @globalyogaforchange
my dream is to develop this, you will be seeing more of me <3

6 years ago

Probiotics are very important for our health. I try to take probiotics from alimentation but sometime we need supplements for a good balance.

4 years ago

I just started using probiotics about 5 months ago and I can already admit to seeing a big difference in the overall health of my gut. I didn’t really understand how big of a roll gut health played in the balance and functionality of my body. I was told to try Florajen, which is a refrigerated probiotic that is kept behind the counter at the pharmacy but no prescription is necessary. They have products line for the entire family so no one has to be left out of the journey. You can check them out online at http://www.florajen.com