Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: What’s the Difference?

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: What’s the Difference?


20 September 2019


Chances are that even if you haven’t used probiotics or prebiotics, you have heard of them. You see it a lot in the health community lately with different foods, supplements, and drinks advertising for them but what are they—and why do you need them?

When we think of bacteria, we often think of the negatives associated with them—colds, flu, dirt, etc.—but your body is home to trillions of beneficial bacteria that you need to to be in a healthy balance (called homeostasis) to have a healthy and happy life.

When this homeostasis becomes disrupted, it’s important to rebuild balance by providing the body with good bacteria that then help ones gut health. This is where probiotics and prebiotics enter. 

What are probiotics?

Every living human on the planet is made up of different forms of bacteria called probiotics. Probiotics are tiny living microorganisms that live in your digestive tract and are considered the “good” bacteria. These bacteria aid in keeping the digestive system running smoothly by limiting the growth of bad bacteria. Probiotics help in digesting food, destroying harmful pathogens, and producing vitamins we need to live a healthy and balanced life.

Research suggests that probiotics not only help with your digestive health but also help in boosting mental health and overall wellness. These studies have found that probiotics may alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Probiotics can be found in fermented foods such are yoghurt, sauerkraut, miso, kimchi, tempeh, kefir, kombucha. 

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are the fibres found in different foods that your body cannot digest. They serve as the food and fuel for probiotics.

There is less research on prebiotics than on probiotics, but some suggest that prebiotics may benefit the body by improving calcium absorption, changing how the body metabolizes carbohydrates, supporting the probiotic growth of gut bacteria, and potentially enhancing digestion and metabolism.

Prebiotics occur naturally in many plant-based foods. A diet that is rich in garlic, vegetables, fruits and legumes will ensure you're getting enough prebiotics.

Prebiotics and probiotics both support the body in building and maintaining a healthy balance of bacteria and other microorganisms. It’s essential to have both prebiotics and probiotics to promote a healthy gut. 

Do you need to supplement?

Eating a diet that is plant-based and rich in fibre helps to ensure that you are getting enough prebiotics, so there’s no need to supplement. If you are someone that struggles with getting in enough fibre or struggles with eating a diverse diet, you can look for a psyllium husk supplement.

As for probiotics, they’re a little trickier since there are so many different strains, each having benefits for different conditions. It’s recommended that you should consume one to three servings of probiotic-rich foods once a day, along with a quality probiotic supplement. Due to modern living, there is a rise in gut dysbiosis. To help keep the balance, it’s recommended to find a probiotic supplement that works for you and your digestive tract. Research has found spore-based probiotics to have the best results. 

As the saying goes “You are what you eat”, but more accurately “you are what your microbes eat.” Ensuring that you have enough good bacteria—and that they are well fed—ensures a healthy gut. A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, good heart and brain health, along with healthy body weight, lowered inflammation and helps to stabilize blood sugar levels.

People should consult a doctor or dietitian if they feel that they need specific advice on the right diet for their needs.

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