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

Can Probiotics Help with Weight Loss?

It’s no secret that America has a weight problem. The latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell us that roughly 28 percent of American adults are obese, and our children are quickly following suit. But sometimes help can come from the most unlikely places, which is what researchers in Japan discovered recently.

Published in this month’s European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, results from a 12-week study revealed that probiotics may play a significant role in the battle against obesity. More than 80 participants were chosen based on high body mass index (BMI) and abdominal fat and asked to drink 200g daily of a fermented milk beverage, either with or without a probiotic strain called Lactobacillus gasseri. The outcome was a more than 4% decrease in abdominal and subcutaneous fat in those who received the probiotic, as well as a significant decrease in body weight and waistline.

While more research needs to be done to determine exactly how probiotics support healthy weight management, scientists believe it has something to do with how they affect our metabolism. Of course, we already know these beneficial bacteria play a significant role in better digestion, regularity, immune function and overall health, so don’t forget your probiotics!