Probiotics vs prebiotics – and foods to find them in

You know about probiotics, but what about prebiotics? Both are important for your health.

07 November 2016
by Glynis Horning

Most of us are familiar with probiotics now that many doctors prescribe them along with antibiotics. They do this to try to replace any ‘good’ gut bacteria destroyed along with the ‘bad’ bacteria targeted by antibiotics. In this way, probiotics help keep your gut healthy, promoting digestion so you get optimal nutritional benefit from nutrients, and boosting your immunity and overall health. 

But what are prebiotics?

We tend to be much less aware of prebiotics. “These are non-digestible carbohydrates that provide food for your normal gut bacteria,” explains Durban medical microbiologist Dr AKC Peer. “There’s growing evidence that having a healthy ‘microbiome’ (the 100 trillion microbes that populate our gut) can help you ward off or treat conditions from bloating and flatulence to diarrhoea, constipation, inflammation, damage to the gut lining, which can result in leaky bowel syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), intestinal infections, urinary tract infections (UTIs) and candida (vaginal thrush).”

Taking probiotics and prebiotics when prescribed may help build a healthy microbiome, as we become what researchers such as Julie Segre of the National Human Genome Research Institute in the US calls “microbial wildlife managers” in a fascinating new approach to health.

The benefits of a healthy microbiome

Evidence is mounting that a healthy microbiome can help us fight infectious diseases, and treat disorders that may seem entirely unconnected with bacteria, including obesity and diabetes

It may even promote mental and emotional health, as a large proportion of brain chemicals such as serotonin is made in your gut. In fact, your gut health affects the functioning of everything from your nervous system to your hormonal balance and reproductive system and the ability of your liver to rid your bodies of toxins. 

Sources of probiotics and prebiotics

“Today probiotics and prebiotics are available in tablet, powder and liquid form, which is useful if you’re unable to eat properly, but you should take them only after discussion with your doctor or pharmacist,” advises Dr Peer. 

It’s far better to get them naturally, and it’s easy with a healthy diet that includes the following:

Foods with probiotics:

  • Yoghurt with live cultures
  • Maas (fermented milk)
  • Buttermilk
  • Miso (paste from fermented soybeans and barley or rice malt)
  • Tempeh (fermented soybean cake)
  • Sauerkraut, kimchi or other fermented vegetables
  • Aged cheeses or soft ones like Gouda
  • Sourdough bread

Foods with prebiotics:

  • Bananas, berries and other fruit
  • Soybeans 
  • Legumes, such as beans, peas, lentils, soybeans and peanuts
  • Whole oats, oatmeal
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Artichokes 
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic, onions
  • Flaxseeds
  • Green vegetables
  • Tomatoes
  • Honey
  • Red wine

Foods with both:

Products that combine probiotics with prebiotics are called synbiotics, and you can achieve something similar by combining items on the lists above, for example:

  • Dice bananas into yoghurt
  • Make a stir-fry of tempeh with artichokes or asparagus
  • Eat honey on sourdough bread

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