Prebiotics or probiotics?

Published 6:45 pm Friday, March 6, 2020


Community columnist

The lovely lady on TV savors her yogurt and promises that you will enjoy a healthier lifestyle if you eat her delicious brand.  It’s full of probiotics.  Or was that prebiotics?  What is the difference?  Do either of them really help?

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Probiotics are “good bacteria” that help keep the gut healthy. They may help digestion, destroy cells that can cause disease, or help to produce vitamins.  They can be found in yogurt and other fermented foods, such as sauerkraut.  Prebiotics are plant fibers that feed the “good bacteria” in the gut.  They can be found in many fruits and vegetables.   Nearly 1,000 different kinds of bacteria live in the human gut.  The key to a healthy digestive system is keeping the proper balance among them.  Prebiotics help by giving good bacteria the food they like to eat.  Probiotics add the good bacteria directly to the gut. 

Prebiotics and probiotics can be taken in pill form, but research about supplements is in the early stages.  Each of the 1,000 bacteria in the gut has different roles to play in keeping it healthy.  Successful use of supplements depends upon choosing the correct prebiotic or probiotic to address the bacteria in question and providing the correct amount of it.  There are many kinds of supplements.  When thinking about taking a supplement, talk to your doctor first.  This will improve the chances of choosing the right one in the right dosage to meet your needs.

Since both prebiotics and probiotics are found in foods, a healthy diet can improve chances of keeping gut bacteria in balance.  Eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and foods fermented with bacteria. 

Eating the skin of fruits and vegetables can be a great source of prebiotics. Don’t peel that apple, pear, or potato! You don’t want to miss out on those gut friendly prebiotics. Some of the top prebiotic foods include onions, leeks, carrots, flax seeds, chia seeds, asparagus, yams and radishes. Let’s not forget about those gut friendly probiotics. These can be found in dairy products such as raw cheese and yogurt. Often times when we are sick we are prescribed an antibiotic. These are great at helping us get better quickly but they tend to kill off some of our gut’s good bacteria in the process. To get more probiotics in your diet try foods such as miso soup, tempeh, brine-cured olives, kefir, apple cider vinegar and sauerkraut. 

For more information on how to celebrate National Nutrition Month contact the Boyle County Extension Office. Email me at