the 101: the difference between prebiotics and probiotics

October 9, 2017

Probiotics have picked up quite a bit of fame in recent years, particularly due to the science + research that's consistently showing the connection between gut health + overall wellbeing. However, could the brightly shining spotlight blind the importance of other key players, like prebiotics? And what are these gut health helpers, anyway?


Probiotics are "good" bacteria that live in your gut (especially in the part of the digestive tract that includes the intestines) and support the absorption of nutrients, keep "bad" bacteria, yeasts and fungi at bay, and help digestive functions move smoothly. By keeping the gut healthy, probiotics also create a solid environment for the immune system to thrive, as an estimated 70% of immunity stems from the gut; and they help to balance mood by producing a large amount of the body's pleasure and happiness neurotransmitters. Collectively, probiotics live in an environment called a microbiome - a community of bacteria. 


Prebiotics on the other hand are food on which probiotics feed. Prebiotics are made of fiber that does not break down as it moves through the digestive tract. Plant fiber, which is primarily made of resistant starch, is a great prebiotic food, feeding good bacteria so healthy gut flora can thrive. The bacteria in our gut also eventually helps to metabolize the resistant starches, which in turn create short-chain fatty acids. These short-chain fatty acids improve the intestinal lining and regulate the electrolyte balance in the body. 


As you can see, these two work together to keep the digestive tract in shape. Without one, the other would be helpless, and vice versa. So, where can you source pre- and probiotics?


Fermented foods are rich in naturally occurring + healthy bacteria, which make them great for supplementing probiotics for the digestive tract. A probiotic capsule is also beneficial for bumping up the good-for-you bacteria for anyone who needs an extra boost or has trouble digesting fermented foods - particularly those with a histamine intolerance, as fermented foods are high in histamine. 


Additionally, as I mentioned above, plant fiber is great for providing the digestive system with resistant starches, which is a specific indigestible fiber that does not break down as it moves through the small intestine, but rather becomes food for beneficial bacteria as it ferments in the large intestine. These qualities make resistant starches fantastic prebiotic foods, meaning they feed good bacteria so healthy gut flora can thrive. Besides resistant starches, plants high in inulin are also fantastic prebiotic foods. Inulin feeds the microbiome because of its complex carbohydrate nature; many times these foods have a stringy quality, like you would find when breaking a piece of celery in half.

 My favorite ways of adding both prebiotics and probiotics into my meals include adding a little sauerkraut or kimchi to my eggs in the morning or having overnight oats with yogurt + chia for breakfast. Plantain chips + celery with hummus is a fantastic snack, and a bit of kombucha after a meal helps to curb any dessert cravings. Having a cup of warm miso broth or apple cider vinegar diluted in water with cinnamon are both wonderful for preparing your digestive system for your next meal, while pairing artichokes and asparagus with my lunches or dinners, and roasting Jeruselum artichoke (a root veggie) and leeks for adding into meals is easy peasy! 


Need additional help improving your gut health or simply getting your meals back on track? Email me at so we can figure out how to get you moving towards optimal health! 


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