A Quick Guide to Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

Prebiotics vs. probiotics: what's the difference? Learn how these beneficial bacteria work together to support your digestive health and overall well-being.

When it comes to gut health, the topic of probiotics — or foods or supplements that include good bacteria — often comes up. Your gut health can be critical to mood, immune system functioning, and more.

However, many people do not recognize the importance of prebiotics, which help feed vital gut bacteria in order to help keep your gut health in top shape. Are you interested in adding more prebiotics and probiotics to your diet? Want to learn more about these gut health essentials? Read on to explore the relationship between prebiotics, probiotics, and overall gut health.

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are those foods or supplements that contain live, healthy microorganisms that can help build the "good" bacteria in your gut. Your gut flora, or gut microbiome, is critical to a number of vital functions in your body, including:

  • Immune system functioning. A healthy, functioning immune system starts in the gut, and a flourishing gut microbiome can help prevent and fight off disease. 
  • Controlling inflammation. The gut microbiome may produce higher levels of vitamin K, which may help reduce inflammation in the body. This may help control pain, fight some types of diseases, and improve mobility and functioning.
  • Maintaining mood health. In many cases, a healthy gut microbiome can help fight symptoms of depression or anxiety. 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. People with an unhealthy gut microbiome may have greater overall odds of obesity. 
  • Improving digestive health. Often, digestive problems start in the gut, with an unhealthy balance of those essential bacteria.

People with a healthy, diverse, and flourishing gut microbiome may experience many health benefits. While research is still pending on the full health benefits of consuming probiotics, research is pretty clear that it can be helpful to regularly consume foods that offer probiotic benefits.

Related: What Do Probiotics in Kombucha Do?

Foods Containing Probiotics

Probiotics are found primarily in fermented foods. Common foods that contain probiotics may include:

  • Yogurt
  • Some types of cheese, including Gouda, mozzarella, and cottage cheese
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Pickles
  • Miso
  • Tempeh
  • Kefir
  • Sourdough bread

Carefully check your food to determine its probiotic content and what benefits it might offer you. With practice and time, you will learn what foods offer the probiotic boost you need to keep your gut microbiome flourishing.

What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics serve as food for the bacteria and yeast living in the gut that make up the microbiome. Prebiotics include fiber that the human body cannot digest. When you consume foods that include those essential prebiotics, they are broken down by the gut microbiome. This, in turn, makes it possible for that microbiome to flourish and grow, which can prove essential to overall health. 

Prebiotics occur naturally in many of the foods most people consume on a regular basis. As a result, most people do not have to take prebiotic supplements in order to reap their benefits.

Indeed, a diet rich in prebiotics can offer some health benefits, including the growth of those essential bacteria in the gut. As the microbiome flourishes, provided with the right type of nurturing food, it can help improve immune health, boost digestive health, and even help fight obesity. 

Foods Containing Prebiotics

While fermented foods -- or those that undergo a controlled aging process -- are most likely to contain probiotics, prebiotics may be found in a number of common foods, including a variety of foods that you may already consume on a regular basis. By boosting your prebiotic consumption, you can help fuel those healthy bacteria in your gut, leading to a thriving microbiome.

Common foods containing prebiotics may include:

  • Almonds
  • Chickpeas
  • Garlic
  • Onions and leeks
  • Savoy cabbage
  • Lentils
  • Many types of beans, including kidney beans
  • Bananas
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Grains, including barley and oats
  • Flax seed

Adding in prebiotics as part of your regular diet can help boost your gut microbiome with little further effort on your part. If you're consuming probiotics and hoping to experience the benefits, however, it's important to ensure that you're getting plenty of prebiotics as well.

Many people have a diet high in foods that can actually kill off gut bacteria and decrease overall gut health, including red meat, alcohol, sugar, and artificial sweeteners. Highly processed foods may also interfere with your gut microbiome. 

How to Improve Probiotic and Prebiotic Consumption for Gut Health

Many people have engaged in a significantly increased overall interest in probiotic and prebiotic consumption as they try to boost immunity and see how they can, overall, feel healthier. In many cases, they worry that it will mean a complete change to their diet. However, there are several strategies you can use to help improve your probiotic and prebiotic consumption. As you improve overall gut health, you may also find that your cravings for some of those familiar, less healthy products decrease. 

1. Add a Probiotic-Containing Food to Your Daily Diet. 

Some people feel that their best bet when they're ready to start increasing probiotic consumption is simply to take a supplement. As with most health-boosting substances, however, the most effective way to increase probiotic consumption and start building that healthy gut microbiome may be through diet. 

That said, it's wise to start adding real, probiotic-rich foods into your diet. One great, easy way to add probiotics is to simply start drinking kombucha daily. Add it in before breakfast to help give you a boost to start your day, cook with it, or make a habit of drinking your favorite flavor as part of a mid-afternoon treat.

A quick note about cooking with kombucha — Heating kombucha can actually reduce or "kill off" the beverage's probiotic properties. You might try using kombucha in a sauce, dressing, smoothie, or other cold dish if you want to get the full benefits of its probiotic properties. However, kombucha's unique and delicious flavor can make a tasty and tangy addition to many recipes, both hot and cold!

You may start your morning with a bowl of yogurt, decide to choose cheeses that likely have strong probiotic content, or break out a sourdough starter and start consuming sourdough bread more often. As you continue to explore new options, you may find it much easier to continue adding those essential probiotics to your diet. 

Related: How to Get Started Cooking with Kombucha

2. Make Sure You're Consuming Prebiotic Fiber Regularly. 

Prebiotics don't get nearly as much attention as probiotics. However, if you aren't feeding your gut microbiome, it can be impossible for it to thrive the way you need it to if you're going to build that overall improvement in your health, immunity, and more. Are you consuming prebiotic fiber regularly?

There are several things you can do to increase your prebiotic consumption.

  • Choose healthy grains as part of your regular breakfast. You may want to consider consuming oatmeal, adding flax to your morning smoothie, or adding nuts and seeds to your diet.
  • Choose whole grain breads for your sandwich instead of highly processed white bread at lunch.  
  • Grab fruit that you know contains prebiotic fiber, like a banana or slice of watermelon, for a morning pick-me-up or afternoon snack.
  • Munch on nuts, including almonds and pistachios, when you need a protein boost or find yourself feeling hungry.
  • Incorporate legumes into your soups and stews to help thicken them, add substance, and get that essential prebiotic boost. 

With a few simple swaps in your regular diet, you may find that it gets much easier to enhance prebiotic consumption and ensure that you're feeding your gut microbiome. 

3. Start Making Healthy Swaps for the Foods That Can be Harmful to Your Gut Bacteria.

If you're trying to improve your gut microbiome, you may need to check your current diet. Often, you may find that a diet high in red meat and processed food leads to less overall gut health. While any efforts to improve your gut health are fantastic, making some changes to your current diet may help that microbiome really flourish. 

Avoid highly processed foods.

Try swapping out some of those processed snacks that you typically reach for with home-cooked versions or whole food snacks that are overall better for your gut microbiome. Highly processed foods may include fast foods, packaged treats and snacks, and many of the freezer meals that you may pick up at the grocery store.

Try swapping out some of your regular red meat consumption for lean meats like chicken, turkey, and fish.

While they may not offer direct prebiotic benefits, these leaner sources of protein can help you get the protein content you need without interfering with overall gut health. Lean protein sources may also help improve your overall energy levels. 

Incorporate plant-based proteins when you can.

Not all your protein choices have to be meat. Nuts, beans, and legumes may be a great source of protein that can also offer prebiotic benefits, helping you improve your gut health. 

Swap out your soda for a healthier option.

Many people rely on soda to help them get through the day. Whether you're looking for an energy boost or just like the flavor, however, soda may not be the healthiest choice you can make. Whether you're drinking full-sugar varieties that are high in calories or diet versions that use artificial sweeteners, your soda consumption may be killing off your gut microbiome.

A great alternative to soda is kombucha. Drinking kombucha instead can help introduce helpful bacteria to the gut. Many people find that it's easier to avoid soda when they have a healthier option on hand that will allow them to get the flavor boost they're craving.

Reduce overall sugar consumption.

Decreasing sugar consumption can be incredibly difficult, especially at first. Sugar cravings can interfere with your best resolutions and make it harder for you to reach your goals. However, by reducing sugar consumption, you can help keep your gut microbiome healthier.

Decrease alcohol consumption.

While the occasional drink is okay, it's important not to get into the habit of drinking on a regular basis. Heavy alcohol consumption can kill the healthy bacteria in your gut and lead to a number of health challenges. 

When is the Best Time to Consume Prebiotics and Probiotics?

The jury remains divided on whether there is a "best time of day" to consume prebiotics and probiotics. In general, it's important to include probiotics as part of your diet, regardless of when you may decide to consume them. Do you want to start the day off with a bowl of yogurt so that you can get that great probiotic boost as early as possible? Go for it! Do you want to consume your probiotics in your kombucha at lunchtime or as a snack? That strategy will help introduce those vital bacteria to your gut and increase the odds that you'll get the health benefits you're looking for.

Prebiotic consumption can also depend on your specific diet and lifestyle. You don't have to worry about immediately consuming prebiotics as soon as you consume your probiotics. In general, as long as you're getting plenty of those foods in your diet, you will probably find that your gut microbiome is flourishing. However, eating prebiotic-containing foods throughout the day, as part of your regular diet, can help boost your overall health.

Are You Looking for a Way to Add Probiotics to Your Diet?

Kombucha is a fantastic way to add probiotics to your regular diet and improve your gut health. Because probiotics are found primarily in fermented foods, you may need to make more of an effort to add them to your diet in general than you will when simply trying to add in healthy fruits and vegetables or increase your consumption of whole foods, as you might when you're trying to add prebiotics.

Not only is kombucha a great option for getting those essential probiotics, but you may find that it's one of your new favorite drinks—which means that regular probiotic consumption might just become a habit. At Brew Dr., we offer a healthy line of kombucha products in a variety of fantastic flavors, including superberry, island mango, and more. Check us out, or contact us to learn more about our flavors, our probiotic content, or how you can make kombucha part of your regular diet.

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