Probiotics and Prebiotics: What’s the Difference?

By now many of you have heard about the remarkable health benefits of probiotics. In fact, the good-for-you bacteria seem to be making headlines everywhere these days—especially as we head into another cold and flu season. And as awareness increases about just how good probiotics are for optimal digestion and immunity, there’s another “p” word you might be wondering about: prebiotics.

In technical terms, prebiotics are often defined as “non-digestible food ingredients” that promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. So what does that mean? Quite simply, prebiotics are a food source for probiotics. So as they travel through the digestive system, they nourish all those good bacteria along the way and help them grow and multiply. The result? More good bacteria in the gut, which means better digestion and a stronger natural defense system.

So where do prebiotics come from? Well, mostly from soluble fiber sources such as oats, legumes, flax and almonds—and that’s where the “non-digestible” part comes into play. Dietary fiber—including both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber—really just refers to the parts of plant foods that our bodies are unable to digest and absorb, which is why it’s sometimes called “roughage”. Because prebiotics are not digested, they remain in the digestive tract where they can do their job of feeding their probiotic partners.

In addition to obtaining prebiotics through the diet, nowadays many probiotic supplements will actually include prebiotics to help you get the benefit of this dynamic duo (i.e. probiotics and prebiotics). For example, you may see something called FOS on the label. Short for fructooligosaccharide, FOS is extracted from soluble fiber foods such as chicory root and will help to feed and stimulate the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli.

So there you have it! Two powerful “p” words that can go a long way toward better digestion and a stronger natural immune system—talk about a winning combination!

Prebiotic Food Sources:

  • Almonds
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Barley
  • Berries
  • Chicory Root
  • Flax
  • Garlic
  • Honey
  • Leeks
  • Legumes
  • Oats
  • Onions
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat
  • Whole Grains

Don’t Forget the Vitamin D!

We hear a lot about the importance of vitamin A, vitamin C, and those good-for-you B vitamins, but it’s not so often we hear about another vitamin that scientists believe may also play a crucial role in maintaining superior health throughout life. These days, however, new research into the remarkable health benefits of vitamin D is beginning to change all of that.  

Vitamin D directly affects more than 200 genes in the body, and studies show that it plays a significant role in stimulating a healthy immune response. In fact, a new study conducted by a team of British and Canadian scientists links too little vitamin D in the diet with an increased risk of certain autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease and type 1 diabetes, as well as a higher risk of certain cancers.

Researchers say it has to do with the way vitamin D binds with specific chromosomes, but the problem comes from a widespread lack of vitamin D in the diet. About one billion people worldwide are vitamin D deficient, which may increase their susceptibility to certain diseases. And as people spend less time outdoors (the body produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight), the problem is getting worse.

Because too little vitamin D can lead to a breakdown in overall health, many experts are now recommending steps to remedy the problem. Certain foods such as eggs and fatty fish contain vitamin D, and many fish oil supplements will include vitamin D to help make up for what’s lacking in the diet. Pregnant women and young children especially may benefit from a daily vitamin D supplement for preventative health, and spending at least 10 minutes in the sun each day is also recommended.