What’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

Prebiotics are fibers found in plants that stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are not digested, but they do pass through the digestive system to ultimately become food for bacteria. Probiotics contain live organisms that add to the healthy bacteria found mainly in the large and small intestine that produce a health benefit. Probiotics can help to add “good” bacteria to the gut and balance the gut flora. 


Should I take a probiotic?

Before adding any dietary supplements to your regimen be sure to ask your doctor. There is scientific evidence suggesting that probiotics have many potential health benefits. Probiotics are most popularly known for lessening the effects of gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, and H pylori. Additionally, probiotics are continually being researched for prevention of bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections. Health benefits are strain specific and not all strains are useful which makes it even more important to talk with your primary care provider! 


Do I have to take a pill to get prebiotics and probiotics in my diet? 

While you can buy prebiotics and probiotics in the form of dietary supplements, they exist naturally in many different foods! Prebiotics are found in plant foods like bananas, onions, garlic, leek, asparagus, artichoke, beans, tomatoes, and whole grain foods. Inulin is a prebiotic fiber that is sometimes added to foods like yogurt due to its creamy and sweet nature. Probiotics can be found in fermented foods like kefir, aged cheese, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, yogurt, and some food manufacturers are adding them to different items.


How to increase prebiotics in the diet?

If you think your diet is lacking prebiotics, it is best to increase consumption slowly. Since prebiotics are a type of fiber and not digested, increasing too fast can cause bloating, stomach pain, and other digestive symptoms. Try increasing intake of prebiotic foods a little each week and continue as tolerated. 


Source: eatright.org

Badgut.org Canadian society for Intestinal research 


Written by: Kara Haakinson, MS, RD, LD

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