Probiotics and Prebiotics: What Are They?

By Alyssa Kessel, RDN, LD, Expert Dietitian

Today I’m going to talk with you about a trendy topic in nutrition. What are Probiotics and Prebiotics?  Even though the names sound similar, they each play a different and complementary role for your gut health. I’m going to break them down for you today and share what you need to know about the two. 

Why a Healthy Gut is Important

You might wonder why it’s important to have a healthy gut? Moreover, did you know that your gut is home to about 100 trillion bacteria, and not all of them are beneficial?probiotics and prebiotics

Your gut microbiota, or the community of bacteria living in your gut, play a vital role in your health. Your gut bacteria can become imbalanced, which is often due to overgrowths of bad bacteria or the lack of good bacteria. This imbalance can cause side effects like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and many more.


Balancing out your gut bacteria starts by eating the beneficial bacteria itself (probiotics) and supplying that beneficial bacteria with the food it needs (prebiotics).

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that are often called “good” or “beneficial” bacteria. This is because they help keep your gut healthy by improving or restoring the gut flora. In addition, these live cultures help maintain our body’s balance of good and bad bacteria. This is essential in keeping our digestive system and bodies working the way they should.

Some of the health benefits of probiotics include:

  1. Helping our bodies to absorb and digest nutrients.
  2. Supporting overall gut health which helps reduce diarrhea, constipation, gas, and bloating.
  3. Improving symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease and urinary tract infections.
  4. Restoring gut bacteria after antibiotics
  5. Building a healthy immune system
  6. Aiding your body’s ability to fight infections

There are many different strains of probiotics, but the most common are lactobacillus and bifidobacteria. They all have different health benefits and can be found in various foods and in supplement form. 

Foods Containing Probiotics

To get more probiotics in your diet, look to fermented foods. Probiotics occur naturally in foods that have undergone fermentation. 

Some of the best probiotic foods are found in fermented dairy foods, including cultured non-dairy yogurt, kefir products, and aged cheeses. In addition, be sure to include plenty of non-dairy foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, tempeh, miso, and pickled vegetables. 

I recommend eating a variety of probiotic foods to help you get the most benefits and maximum number of probiotic strains. 

If you feel that taking a probiotic supplement will help you, I would suggest talking with your health provider to determine which strains will give you the best health benefit. 

What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible fiber in certain plant-based foods. Like other dietary fiber, our bodies can’t digest prebiotics. In other words, this means they stay intact through digestion. Once they reach your gut, the good bacteria ferments the prebiotic to fuel its beneficial activities. Essentially, prebiotics are food for probiotics. 

Literature indicates that increasing prebiotic fiber intake supports immunity, digestive health, bone density, regularity, weight management, and brain health.

Be sure to check out my previous blog on Fiber for tips on how to increase your intake. 

Foods Containing Prebiotics

Some of the best prebiotic foods are: bananas, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, dandelion greens, garlic, jicama, onions, leaks. Others include legumes, beans, oats, wheat, and barley. 

I hope that I’ve helped clear up some of the confusion between probiotics and prebiotics. The two have a synergistic relationship. Without prebiotics as fuel, probiotics would starve. Eating a balanced diet of both can help improve not only your gut, but your overall health. 

If you have any questions or would like to set up an initial weight loss consultation, fill out our consultation packet to get started. We’d love to sit down with you to discuss your goals and help get your health back on track. You can also give us a call at 513-791-9474.

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