Probiotics and Prebiotics: What’s the Difference?

Probiotics and Prebiotics: What's the Difference?

Probiotics and prebiotics are quite important elements for maintaining health. Having very similar names it is easy to confuse them, yet the two are not the same and play different roles.

What are probiotics and prebiotics

Probiotics are positive bacteria present in certain foods or supplements , capable of reaching the intestine alive and providing numerous health benefits, first of all the restoration of the balance of the intestinal microbiota, i.e. the intestinal flora .

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are soluble dietary fibers that represent the nourishment of probiotic bacteria and ensure their growth in the intestine. They help normalize intestinal functions and those of the immune system . They are also excellent allies of the metabolism and can be effective against the rise of blood sugar in people suffering from diabetes .

Why are intestinal bacteria useful?

The good bacteria, aka probiotics, in the digestive tract help protect against harmful bacteria and fungi, improve immune system function, decrease symptoms of depression, and tackle obesity.

In addition, certain intestinal bacteria are responsible for the formation of vitamin K and short-chain fatty acids, the latter being the main sources of nutrients for the cells lining the colon  and valuable in helping to reduce any inflammation .

How food affects the gut microbiota

The food you habitually ingest plays a very important role in the balance of good and bad intestinal bacteria, and consequently in your overall health. For this reason it is essential to follow a diet that keeps the number of useful bacteria sufficiently high and prevents the spread of harmful ones.

When you regularly feed the wrong ones, in fact, they are able to grow faster and colonize the intestine more easily, without the probiotics being able to stop them from doing so.

For example, a diet high in sugar and fat negatively affects gut bacteria and can contribute to insulin resistance and other unhealthy conditions.

Furthermore, high concentrations of harmful bacteria and less healthy intestinal flora are conditions associated by several studies with a higher body mass index ( BMI ).

Foods treated with pesticides also appear to have negative effects on the balance of intestinal bacteria, as can antibiotics .

Some studies have shown that the latter can cause permanent changes in some types of bacteria, especially when taken during childhood and adolescence.

How to stock up on prebiotics

Prebiotics are present in many supplements based on live lactic ferments but before thinking about adding them to your diet using this method, it is good to know that there are also different foods that naturally contain them.

Those that have a higher concentration are vegetables, fruit and legumes .

Humans wouldn’t be able to digest this type of fiber , but the good gut bacteria, by eating it, step in and make it possible, supporting healthy digestion and keeping immune function high.

Specifically, the foods with the highest prebiotic fiber content are:

  • chickpeas
  • beans
  • peas
  • oats
  • bananas
  • berries
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • asparagus
  • dandelion
  • garlic
  • leeks
  • onions .

Foods that contain probiotics

Foods that naturally contain probiotics are diverse. The best known are yogurts or fermented foods, where beneficial bacteria thrive on the sugars or fibers found within them. Many probiotic-rich foods can be made at home or purchased at a grocery store.

The easiest to find are:

  • sauerkraut ,
  • cheeses ,
  • kombucha tea ,
  • kefir ( dairy and non-dairy),
  • some types of pickles ( unpasteurized ),
  • other pickled vegetables (unpasteurized).

If you decide to add fermented foods to your diet for their probiotic benefits , make sure they are not pasteurized, as this process kills all bacteria, including beneficial ones.

Cheese, kefir and sauerkraut are considered symbiotic foods , because they contain both beneficial bacteria and a prebiotic source of fiber that the bacteria can feed on.

Among the recognized potentials of synbiotics, the improvement of lactose intolerance and the absorption of some minerals such as calcium , iron and magnesium , but also the ability to normalize intestinal function.

How to take them with food supplements

If you feel you are not getting enough probiotics through diet, you can add them to your dietary routine with specific supplements.

Probiotic supplements are pills, powders, or liquids that contain live, beneficial bacteria or yeast specific to gut health . Probiotics are of many types and consequently also the supplements are different and with different functions. Therefore, before buying them, it is necessary to inform yourself well.

Their intake is especially useful for restoring the intestinal balance compromised due to various factors such as stress , change of diet, prolonged use of antibiotics or gastrointestinal infections .

For greater effectiveness, probiotic supplements should be taken on an empty stomach , for at least 3-4 weeks, in addition to a diet that already includes them.



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