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The Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics

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With the recent rise in popularity of both prebiotics and probiotics, chances are you’ve heard about these supplements. But what are they, and why are they important to your gut health? We chatted with a nutritionist to get the scoop.

The Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics

What are Prebiotics?

While you’ve heard about them, you might not be all too familiar with prebiotics and their role when it comes to gut and digestive health. “Prebiotics are a type of carbohydrate that is nondigestible, meaning that they are not broken down in the stomach but rather pass through the digestive tract to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the intestines,” explains Leslie Bonci, MHP, RD, CSSD, LDN, a nutrition consultant and founder of Active Eating Advice. They can be found in foods like whole grains, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, soybeans, and artichokes. But, prebiotics can also come in powder form, too. A good example is Benefiber, a clear, taste-free prebiotic fiber that nourishes the good bacteria that exist naturally in your gut. This type of prebiotic powder can be added right into oatmeal, smoothies, or yogurt, explains Bonci. “Prebiotics are the food for probiotics, so we need them; otherwise, the good bacteria in the gut can’t flourish,” she says.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain live microorganisms intended to maintain or improve the "good" bacteria in the body. They can be found in foods like yogurt that has live, active cultures, kefir, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kombucha, explains Bonci. “They are often defined as good or beneficial bacteria because they keep the GI tract healthy,” says Bonci. “Probiotics may play a role in controlling symptoms of IBS, replenishing bacteria destroyed by antibiotics, urinary health, and even the treatment of diarrhea, to name a few.”

Adding Prebiotics and Probiotics Into Your Diet

While more research needs to still be done about the relationship between both pre- and probiotics and disease, having a healthy microbiome is never a bad thing, and most healthy adults can add pre- and probiotic foods and supplements to their diets. If you have any concerns though, it’s always best to check with your doctor or medical professional first.

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