Despite sounding very similar, prebiotics and probiotics are quite different and play different roles in the gut microbiome. So what is a prebiotic vs probiotic?
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotic definition: “a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit.” (1)
This essentially means that the definition of a prebiotic fiber is anything that bacteria living in your gut (or elsewhere) can use to thrive. When these beneficial bacteria thrive, they help you, their host, thrive as well. Thus, prebiotics, by way of helping your good gut bacteria thrive, “confer a health benefit” to you.
Prebiotics provide health benefits by helping your healthy gut bacteria do what they’re supposed to do — produce beneficial compounds like short chain fatty acids (SCFAs), strengthen your gut integrity, and push out bad bacteria.
Prebiotics are most often non-digestible fibers, but more recent research shows that prebiotics can also be things like polyphenols (a type of antioxidant).
Types of Prebiotic Supplements
The most common prebiotic supplements you’ll find include:
- Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
- Galactooligosaccharides (GOS)
- Partially hydrolyzed guar gum (PHGG)
That said, there are also many high prebiotic foods out there, too!
High prebiotic foods include:
- Chicory root
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Dandelion greens
- Bananas (especially green bananas)
- Burdock root
- Yacon root
- Jicama root
What are Probiotics?
Probiotics definition: live microorganisms that confer a health benefit to the host. (2)
So what does this mean exactly? Well, it means that when you take probiotics, you’re consuming live bacteria or other organisms.
While that may sound a little strange, these little gut bugs are actually quite good for you! Part of the definition of a probiotic is that in order to be considered one, that bacteria must actually provide a benefit to you, their host.
That’s why harmful bacteria, like Salmonella, for example, are not considered probiotic. These bacteria cause harm instead of benefitting you. Probiotics, on the other hand, make you healthier!
You can consume probiotic supplements as well as probiotic foods to get these healthy bacteria into your body.
When choosing a probiotic, it is very important to consider the specific strain you’re going to take. That’s because the probiotic strain dictates what kind of health benefits that probiotic might offer.
When looking at the probiotic strain level, you should see 3 different parts of the probiotic name.
Take a look at the image below to see the different parts of the probiotic name, including the probiotic strain.
Because different strains of the same species may provide completely different benefits, it’s important to choose your strain carefully. This becomes especially important when you’re choosing a probiotic supplement — not all probiotic supplements tell you what strain they contain!
Of course, you can also consume probiotics in the form of probiotic foods.
Probiotic foods include:
- Pickles (make sure they’re fermented, not pickled in vinegar)
You can ferment all sorts of veggies yourself, too! Learn how to ferment your own vegetables here.
Prebiotic vs Probiotic
Hopefully by now, you understand the differences between a prebiotic vs probiotic.
Remember, probiotics are live organisms.
Prebiotics are anything that helps those organisms already in your gut thrive.
Both prebiotics and probiotics must be proven to provide a benefit to you, though. If a certain strain or fiber hasn’t been studied or hasn’t been shown to actually provide a benefit, it is not a probiotic or prebiotic.
Provided that you’re taking prebiotics and probiotics that have been clinically-proven to be beneficial, taking both is a really great idea!
What is a Synbiotic?
Speaking of both prebiotics and probiotics…that’s a synbiotic!
Synbiotic definition: a combination of prebiotics and probiotics.
Synbiotics make supporting your gut health easy by including both prebiotics and probiotics in one food or supplement.
But you need to choose your synbiotic supplement carefully because some of them only contain very, very small amounts of prebiotics — not enough to really provide any health benefits.
If you’re trying to choose a prebiotic and probiotic supplement, make sure it contains grams of prebiotics, not milligrams. You need a big dose of prebiotics in order to get the health benefits from it in most cases, but most prebiotic and probiotic supplements only give you tiny doses of prebiotics.
This is essentially just “marketing spin” — they want to be able to claim that their product contains prebiotics, when in reality, that tiny amount of prebiotic isn’t providing any health benefits to you. Lame!
I got so frustrated with all of the prebiotic and probiotic supplements out there that I actually created my own synbiotic product called Gut Power Matcha. I like to think it’s the best prebiotic and probiotic product out there!
In every serving of Gut Power Matcha, you get 6 grams of prebiotic fiber and 1 billion CFU probiotics. All that in a delicious cup of matcha green tea, too!
Gut Power Matcha is truly the easiest, tastiest way to support your gut health and get your prebiotics and probiotics!
Have you ordered yours yet?