Prebiotics and Probiotics – What’s The Difference and Do I Need Both?

Study after study (not just one here and there) are showing that your gut health is the key to your overall health. We now know that not only can the health of your gut flora aid in weight-loss, it can help with Type II diabetes, insulin resistance, inflammation, appetite and even fat loss, not to mention the obvious like upset stomachs, IBS and bloating/gas.

If you’re already on the probiotic bandwagon, you might have heard of prebiotics as well – and you might be confused. What are prebiotics, what are probiotics and do I need both?

The short answer is yes, you do need both, and here’s the long answer explanation to that. 🙂

What are probiotics?

Probiotics refer to the living organisms – the ‘good’ bacteria – that we take to improve the balance of bacteria in the gut. Examples of these are lactobacillus acidophilus, bifido bacterium and more. Probiotics help with digestion, immunity, and the nervous system, to name a few.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics refer to the non-digestible carbohydrates that we eat that provide food for the good bacteria in our gut. When I say non-digestible, I mean non digestible until it reaches our colon.  The three main types of prebiotics are non-starch polysaccharides (inulin and fructooligosaccharides), soluble fiber (psyllium husk) and resistant starch (cooked and cooled sweet potato, garlic, onion and plantains and unripe bananas).

I find the first kind (inulin especially) to cause digestive problems in a lot of clients I deal with, so recommend the resistant starch. Interestingly, resistant starch is actually only resistant when the food is in certain forms (raw, or cooked and cooled).

Why Both?

There will always be a combination of many different types of bacteria in the gut, and while taking probiotics helps, you want to maintain the healthy bacteria by feeding them (via prebiotics).

What Should You Eat?

Well, given that you need both – certainly a combination of probiotics and prebiotics. Here are some ideas:

  • Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, miso and kombucha (low sugar)
  • Resistant starch like plantains, small amounts of cooked and cooled potato, or even some unmodified potato starch (this is the best kind of starch vs tapioca, corn or others)
  • Resistant starch like properly soaked and sprouted lentils

Take note: Adding resistant starch into your diet can cause digestive upset at first, which is typically a sign that your gut needs work. Add it in very small doses (i.e. 1/2 teaspoon of the potato starch in water), and gradually increase it over time.

If you have IBS, or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) I wouldn’t recommend doing this without a practitioner guiding you. Want to read more about resistant starch? This is a great article here.

Most Importantly

I want you to remember the importance of gut health, even if you don’t feel that you have the obvious symptoms (bloating, gas and upset stomachs), but especially if you have noticeable symptoms. I believe everyone should be taking a probiotic, unless you include fermented foods every day in your diet, and nope – pickles and beer don’t count. 😉

PS – Don’t forget that my coaching program is perfect for kickstarting your health and fixing any gut problems you might be experiencing!

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