Probiotics vs prebiotics in human health are both pretty big topics in nutrition these days. Yet even though they sound similar, the two play different roles for your health. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria, while prebiotics are food for these bacteria. These food components help promote beneficial bacteria by providing food and creating an environment where microorganisms can flourish.
Probiotics vs Prebiotics Human Health: What’s the Difference?
The lining of your gut, like every surface of your body, is covered in microscopic creatures, mostly bacteria. These organisms create a micro-ecosystem called the microbiome. And though we don’t really notice it’s there, it plays an oversized role in your health and can even affect your mood and behavior.
Not surprisingly, what you feed your microbiome may have the biggest impact on its health. And the healthier it is, the healthier you are. The key to a healthy microbiome is nourishing a balance among the nearly 1,000 different species of bacteria in your gut.
There are two ways to maintain this balance — helping the microbes already there to grow by giving them the foods they like (prebiotic) and adding living microbes directly to your system (probiotic).
Probiotics are different in that they contain live organisms, usually specific strains of bacteria that directly add to the population of healthy microbes in your gut. Like prebiotics, you can take probiotics through both food and supplements. Probably the most common probiotic food is yogurt.
Yogurt is made by fermenting milk with different bacteria, which are left in the final product. Other bacteria-fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi, are also good sources of probiotics.
Probiotic supplements also contain live organisms. A single dose may include a particular strain of microbe or blend of microbes. Like with prebiotic supplements, probiotic supplement companies market products to specific conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome.
Prebiotics are specialized plant fibers. They act like fertilizers that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. They are found in many fruits and vegetables, especially those that contain complex carbohydrates, such as fiber and resistant starch. These carbs aren’t digestible by your body, so they pass through the digestive system to become food for the bacteria and other microbes.
Nowadays, the list of prebiotic supplements might be even longer, but they usually contain a complex carbohydrate such as fiber. Supplement companies market products to specific conditions, such as bone health and weight management, claiming that their ingredients enhance the growth of specific kinds of bacteria.
Why Are the Gut Bacteria Beneficial?
The good bacteria in your digestive tract help protect you from harmful bacteria and fungi. They also send signals to your immune system and help regulate inflammation.
Additionally, some of your gut bacteria form vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids. Short-chain fatty acids are the main nutrient source of the cells lining the colon. They promote a strong gut barrier that helps keep out harmful substances, viruses and bacteria. This also reduces inflammation, and may reduce the risk of cancer.
Which Foods are Probiotic?
A high-quality, plain yogurt with live cultures can be a fantastic addition to your diet if you want to add beneficial bacteria.
Fermented foods are another great option, as they contain beneficial bacteria that thrive on the naturally occurring sugar or fiber in the food.
Examples of fermented foods include:
- Kombucha te
- Kefir (dairy and non-dairy)
- Some types of pickles (non-pasteurized)
- Other pickled vegetables (non-pasteurized)
Which Foods Are Prebiotic?
Foods that are high in prebiotic fiber include:
- Legumes, beans and peas
- Jerusalem artichokes (not the same as regular artichokes)
- Dandelion greens
Takeaway Probiotics vs Prebiotics Human Health
For most healthy people, there is no need to take prebiotic or probiotic supplements. However, the risk of doing so is usually minimal for people who do not have weakened immune systems or underlying illnesses.
A diet consisting of a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fermented foods makes it possible for people to consume sufficient prebiotics and probiotics without relying on supplements.
What can Fortress Nutrition LLC do for you?
Rest assured that you’re in good hands with Fortress Nutrition. To learn more about how we tailor our blending, ingredient sourcing, logistics, consumer packaging, and other services to meet customer needs, and to find out how we can partner with you to ensure compliance with new GMO laws, contact us today.