Prebiotics and probiotics are both key to a healthy digestive system and promote gut health, but what are they exactly and are they that much different?
We are going to do our best to break down the key characteristics of these two support systems as well as how they differ from one another.
Let's start things off with a brief rundown of the two, starting with prebiotics.
Prebiotics are found in fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole and play a key role in stimulating the growth and balance of healthy bacteria inside our colon. Our bodies cannot digest certain fibers from these food sources and so they are used to help benefit organisms found in our gut instead.
These non-digestible fibers are then fermented into short-chain fatty acids within the colon that are then converted into energy for the cells lining the walls of the digestive tract.
This process feeds beneficial bacteria colonies which also helps increase the presence of good bacteria in our digestive system. These bacteria are associated with better health and reduced disease risk.
There hasn't been as much research conducted on prebiotics as there has been on probiotics, so the true extent of all of the bacteria's benefits remain a bit more unclear than its counterpart.
How many cells do you think are found within the human body? A couple billion? According to researchers, there are an estimated 37.2 trillion cells in the average human body. I don't know about you, but 37.2 trillion is a pretty large number. Unfathomably large, right? Well, that's not even close to the number of probiotics in the human body.
There is an estimated 10 probiotics in the gut for every 1 cell in the human body, meaning there are over 372 trillion probiotics in our bodies.
But what are probiotics and what do they do? Probiotics found in food are bacteria that range from being identical or near identical to those found in your gut. This bacteria ideally helps keep the digestive system running smoothly, efficiently, and most of all, safely.
This number, however, can rise and fall based on different processes and influences on our bodies, especially when we take antibiotics in hopes of fighting off a number of different health conditions.
Antibiotics, while taking care of the bad bacteria that may be causing us to become sick, also wipe out a large amount of healthy bacteria in our bodies, leaving us vulnerable after the antibiotics wear off. When that happens, we need to repopulate the supply, which we do through eating foods that contain high amounts of the good bacteria. Foods like yogurt, soft cheeses, and fermented vegetables all serve as great sources of probiotics.
Prebiotic foods provide our bodies with much-needed fiber, which has innumerable health benefits that can help fight off cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, make you more regular, and help keep your appetite in check.
These types of foods can also help the body by improving calcium absorption, changing how the body handles the processing of carbohydrates, and promotes gut health.
Prebiotics have also been linked to the probiotic growth of bacteria in the gut, which could potentially help enhance digestion and metabolism.
Prebiotics help our bodies build up healthy bacteria colonies throughout our digestive system, but what happens when those that bacteria is depleted after taking antibiotics or other medications? Enter probiotics.
Why do you think physicians recommend that their patients take probiotics or eat probiotic foods who are on a rigorous antibiotic cycle? These foods help rebuild and repopulate the bacteria found in the colon and other parts of the digestive tract.
Probiotics can even help fight gastrointestinal side effects of certain medications and also help reduce the bacteria growth that often lead to yeast infections.
In addition to helping assisting with the balance of bacteria in the gut, probiotics also have also been used to treat:
Prebiotics are key to good gut health, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to find ways to incorporate more of them in your diet. Though it might seem like a difficult task, adding more prebiotic foods into your diet is a little easier than you might think.
Here are some of foods that are good sources for prebiotics.
The long list of garlic's potential health benefits include: the prevention of gastrointestinal diseases, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut while preventing disease-promoting bacteria from growing, and serving as an anticancer.
The chemical properties of onions can help break down fat and boost immunities by increasing the production of nitric oxide in cells. Whether you slice, dice, or chop onions, it's quite easy to incorporate the vegetable into just about any recipe. Onions go well in salads, soups, and countless other dishes.
One of the most beneficial grains out there is whole oats, which contain large amounts of beta-glucan fiber, which is linked to healthy gut bacteria and lower cholesterol.
Apples are tasty, easy to eat, and full of pectin, a chemical with prebiotic benefits that increase butyrate, a fatty acid that feeds gut bacteria while decreasing the number of bad bacteria at the same time. Whether you are eating them raw, baking, grilling, or adding them to a smoothie or juice, apples are a solid choice for getting more prebiotics into your diet.
You can eat bananas just about anywhere and everywhere. Whether you are eating one on the morning commute, sliced in a fruit salad, or as a frozen treat, the versatility of this sweet and nutrient-rich fruit make it an ideal source of prebiotic goodness.
Asparagus can have anticancer effects, antioxidant effects, and can help with gut health. Asparagus can be cooked in a variety of ways including, grilled, roasted, steamed, and even raw if that's your thing.
Flaxseeds can help promote healthy gut bacteria, help make you more regular, and even reduce the amount of fat you digest and absorb. That's not even mentioning flaxseeds potential for having anti-cancer and antioxidant qualities.
Seaweed, yes seaweed, is actually quite the heavy hitter in the prebiotics category. Though it is not eaten all that often outside of when it's on sushi or in a select few Asian soups, seaweed is quite beneficial for your health and maybe should be eaten more often.
Probiotic foods are filled with healthy bacteria that help rebuild and strengthen your digestive system. Like prebiotics, probiotics are found in a long list of foods.
Below is a list of some of the most beneficial and popular foods that will help rebuild your gut bacteria.
Yogurt, which is created through the process of fermenting milk by friendly bacteria like lactic acid and bifidobacteria, is one of the most popular sources of probiotics. Not only does it taste good, but yogurt that contains live cultures has a number of health benefits, including helping reduce diarrhea caused by antibiotics, relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, and even help people with high blood pressure.
Sauerkraut might not taste as good as yogurt, but this fermented cabbage is rich in fiber, sodium, and vitamins C, B, and K. And despite its off-putting intense flavor, sauerkraut can be stored in an airtight container for months.
Kimchi is another fermented food that is also a great probiotic. This spicy Korean dish contains lactic acid bacteria that can benefit digestive health.
Miso is a Japanese seasoning with a number of health benefits that is made from the fermentation of soybeans. This versatile paste shows up in a variety of recipes, but most people know it from miso soup. Full of fiber and protein, miso is an ideal probiotic.
Tempeh is a meat-free protein made from fermented soybeans. This firm patty with a nutty flavor is often used as a meat substitute in vegetarian dishes around the world, but it is also a remarkable probiotic that provides the gut with a large amount of vitamins and other nutrients.
Soft cheese like gouda are also great probiotics simply because soft cheese are formed through the fermentation of milk. With the presence of key bacteria and other live cultures, these cheeses are a tasty and effective way of adding more probiotics to your system.
Kefir is a fermented milk drink that is created through the process of adding kefir grains to either milk (cow or goat). The cauliflower-like cultures add a number of health benefits to milk are tremendous for gut health.
Pickled cucumbers are a great source of bacteria thanks to the fermentation process, which is key to promoting and improving digestive health.
Though there are some key differences between the functions of prebiotics and probiotics, they are both key to having a healthy digestive system and a healthy body overall.