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What’s The Main Difference Between Prebiotics Versus Probiotics? 

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Last updated on May 10, 2021

What if your stomach impacted your mind and decision making?

That’s precisely what scientists are starting to realize these days. Your gut health impacts your mental health.

With this new discovery, more and more people are asking about how to have proper gut health. 

That’s where knowing the difference between prebiotics versus probiotics comes in handy. 

What Is The Difference Between A Probiotic And A Prebiotic?

Let’s keep this whole prebiotics versus probiotics discussion very simple. 

First, you need to know that there are different types of bacteria that live in your digestive tract.

Now I know it sounds weird to have bacteria growing in your digestive tract, but what’s really amazing is that a healthy gut includes hundreds of different strains of bacteria.

These strains of bacteria can largely conveniently be grouped into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria.

I know bacteria are more complex than good or bad, but let’s keep things simple here.

The healthiness of your gut is a battle between good and bad bacteria. 

  • Good bacteria: Help your stomach with digestion and fighting inflammation.
  • Bad bacteria: May negatively affect chemical balances, give irritable bowel syndrome, and throw your whole system into disarray.

So now let’s ask what’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

  • Probiotics: The good types of bacteria in your stomach. 
  • Prebiotics: The compounds in food that the ‘good’ probiotic bacteria use to grow.

Now let’s focus on this next very common question:

Which Are Better, Probiotics Or Prebiotics?

It turns out that you really need both probiotics and prebiotics to function optimally.

Probiotics are the beneficial bacteria that help you digest food and secret enzymes. 

However, these ‘good’ probiotic bacteria also need food to live because bacteria are living organisms.

That’s right! These probiotic bacteria that we want in our stomach need food to grow!

I know the idea of feeding bacteria in your stomach may sound strange. 

We’re used to thinking of food:

  • Clean
  • Healthy
  • Whole

But turns out that what’s best for your health are these beneficial bacteria called probiotics! 

And if we don’t ‘feed’ these probiotic bacteria in your gut, then they’ll die and the bad bacteria will take over. We don’t want that, right?

Of course not. So we need to feed these ‘good’ bacteria with fuel. And what’s the fuel for these good bacteria? Prebiotics.

Prebiotics are the food and fuel that probiotics eat, use to grow, and live. 

Without prebiotics, the probiotics would starve to death.

Here’s A Useful Way To Think About Prebiotics Versus Probiotics:

  • Probiotics = Seed
  • Prebiotics = Water, soil and sunlight 

A seed without water, soil and sunlight will die, and of course water, soil and sunlight without a seed won’t make a plant either.

You need both the plant seed and water, soil and sunlight — that is, both probiotics and prebiotics — to function best.

One more thing to know is that some foods actually introduce probiotic bacteria into your digestive system.  We call these “probiotic foods.”

Now that you know the basic definitions and functions of prebiotics versus probiotics, let’s focus on actually getting these into your body!

Does This Mean You Should Take Probiotics And Prebiotics At The Same Time?

One common question that comes up is regarding the timing of eating probiotic foods versus prebiotic food.

Since both prebiotics and probiotics can improve your gut health, should you take both prebiotic food and probiotic food at the same time?

The answer is no you don’t need to take them at the same time, but you may do so if you wish.

Let’s reframe and think in terms of the plant analogy.

  • Probiotic First, Then Prebiotic: You can eat the probiotic food first, to “plant the seed”. Then the prebiotic comes second and nourishes the plant.
  • Prebiotic First, Then Probiotic: You can also set up the conditions for the ‘plant’ to grow first by eating prebiotics. This is like setting up a flower pot with nice soil, proper sunlight and water. Then when you plant the probiotic ‘seed’, the seed will easily sprout.
  • Both Same Time: Another option is combining the seed with the soil, sunlight and water. If you have all the ingredients you’ll be fine 🙂

Basically it doesn’t matter when you eat your probiotic foods or prebiotic foods. Just get them into your stomach somehow.

And finally, let’s wrap up with our last section and actually list out some practical foods you can try to incorporate into your diet.

What Are The Best Probiotic and Prebiotic Foods To Take?

Before we list out probiotics and prebiotic foods, let’s just consider some overall advice to have a healthy gut.

You want to eat these foods regularly, in a routine way, without much to do about it.

  • Eat these foods because they taste good
  • Add these foods to your diet because eating the same foods everyday gets boring
  • Eating these foods for an extended period of time will help rebalance your gut bacteria and help you feel better

If you think of probiotic and prebiotic foods as medicine or something you ‘should’ do, you’ll eat these foods for a week or so but then you’ll stop taking these foods at some point.

Yet of course, once you stop eating these foods your gut bacteria can fall out of balance again.

Try to make these foods a regular, routine part of your diet, instead of thinking of these foods as something you ‘should’ do only because you ‘have’ to.

With that being said …

What Is The Best Probiotic Food To Take And Eat?

Here is a list of probiotic foods you can begin to try to integrate into your weekly diet.

  • Yogurt
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Kefir
  • Pickles

Important:

As you can see, probiotic foods tend to be fermented foods. Yet some of these fermented foods can even be hard to incorporate into your diet regularly.

So don’t think you need these foods everyday, or even every day other days.

However, around one time per week or more is best.  

Here’s one tip to make things easier: I would like to say that I myself only eat yogurt on a regular basis.  Yogurt is readily available and easy to eat.

Occasionally I’ll have some pickles, but overall I have way more yogurt than pickles.

See, I’m of the opinion that yogurt is by far the easiest source of ‘good’ bacteria in the gut to consume.

Of course if you get yogurt that is entirely sugar-filled crap, I don’t think you’ll get much probiotic benefit in your immune system from this type of yogurt.

Make sure that you start out by adding some regular, Greek yogurt into your diet for your probiotic intake. 

While you can get probiotics in other ways, I think that practically speaking yogurt is the easiest, best, and most familiar option for many readers.

Why Yogurt Rocks

  • Yogurt goes well with fruits, nuts and other snack-like items
  • Yogurt is a great breakfast option, and honey can be added to yogurt for a more dessert quality
  • Yogurt is filling, contains lots of protein and good fats too
  • Yogurt contains helpful bacteria for your gut microbiome

In essence, yogurt is a superfood with lots of health benefits. Start out with yogurt for your probiotic intake.

Don’t worry about the sugar content, but do try to get the less-pasteurized Greek yogurt to really get a good dose of good stomach bacteria that will help your digestive system and gut flora.

What Are The Best Prebiotic Foods To Eat?

Here are some lists of prebiotic foods to take.

  • Bananas
  • Oats
  • Beans
  • Garlic
  • Berries
  • Jerusalem Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Chicory root

I suggest you start with these two foods to get your prebiotic food intake:

  1. Whole grain oats 
  2. Beans.

Both beans and oats:

  • Have prebiotic fiber (basically the type of fiber that feeds probiotics)
  • Are filling and nutritious
  • Pair well with other foods
  • Are a great part of any healthy diet

Don’t worry too much about the sodium levels, but if you are buying canned beans (as opposed to cooking dry beans) then you can find lower sodium canned beans then that’s the way to go.

For a ‘complete list of healthy foods to eat’ read here.

Summary

To summarize, I hope you can understand by now that thinking about prebiotic ‘versus’ probiotic foods, which sounds like there is some sort of conflict, isn’t the best way to think about them.

It’s really prebiotics ‘and’ probiotics. This ‘and’ instead of ‘versus’ promotes a more natural way of thinking about these foods.

Because both prebiotic and probiotic foods are relatively simple to get more of:

  • Eat more yogurt
  • Try more beans
  • Eat more oats

That’s it, really. There’s not much you need to know besides that.

Don’t make a big deal out of it. Just incorporate these foods regularly and you can forget about the rest.

What do you think? Agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below.


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