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What’s the Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

September 13, 2021
Photo Credit: Nadine Greef

There are trillions (yes, trillions) of microscopic organisms living in your digestive tract — and weird as it might sound, one of the best things you can do for your health is to keep those little guys happy. But although the idea that your digestive system houses a tiny ecosystem filled with little creatures all its own may seem strange, a balanced gut microbiome doesn’t only help your digestion, it can help every part of you. An imbalance in your gut can lead to depression, anxiety, sleep problems, skin rashes, fatigue, weight gain, and even autoimmune issues (although there are more potential culprits for these issues, of course). So what’s the best way to ensure your microbiome stays balanced? A combination of prebiotics and probiotics.

So what are prebiotics, anyway?

You’ve probably heard of probiotics already (and your doctor may have recommended you take some the last time you had to take antibiotics), but prebiotics are newer to the conversation. Basically, prebiotics serve as the food source for all the good bacteria in your gut, keeping that population surviving and thriving. So to ensure your microbiome is well-populated, you need to make sure you eat enough prebiotics for those microorganisms to snack on in turn, keeping them in top form. You can get prebiotics from certain foods. Some good sources of prebiotics include bananas, asparagus, garlic, onion, barley, Jerusalem artichokes, and peas.

You also can also choose to take prebiotic supplements. These have been added to fizzy drinks, energy bars, and are also available as capsules and gummies.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are the beneficial live microorganisms that exist inside of us and promote a strong immune system, sharp cognition, and healthy digestion, among other benefits. Just as your healthy habits support your gut health, your gut health in turn supports your healthy habits. For example, getting plenty of good-quality sleep aids your microbiome, and when your microbiome is balanced, you’re able to get more high-quality sleep — it’s a virtuous cycle.

One great way to get more probiotics in your diet is to eat them. There are plenty of delicious, probiotic-rich fermented foods, like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso, and kimchi. Add kefir to a smoothie, have some sauerkraut alongside a burger, try tempeh in your stir-fry, whisk miso into a salad dressing — there are countless ways to incorporate these delicious ingredients into your everyday meals and snacks. Here’s one of our faves:

Cold Kimchi Soba Noodles

Kimchi soba noodles

A little spicy, with a nice vinegar kick, these kimchi soba noodles are fast, healthful, and last for days in the fridge — we’re big fans.

Taking a high-quality probiotic supplement is another simple, daily step you can take to make sure your gut stays healthy. Probiotics are available as capsules and also in powder form, so you can pop one with your daily vitamins, spoon it onto your morning oatmeal, or even stir it into your coffee.

You might also want to consider spore probiotics. While Lactobacillus bacteria have long been considered the gold standard in probiotics, there are some limitations, namely that you need a large dose (at least one billion colony-forming units!). Spore probiotics, on the other hand, don’t require large doses — or refrigeration, which makes them extra easy to keep around.

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