What’s the difference between probiotics and prebiotics?

Your gut is a garden. It needs care-taking.

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You may have heard the terms, but what do they mean and how do they keep you healthy?

Probiotics are live bacteria naturally found in food. When you eat probiotics they make their way down into your gut, where there is an ecosystem of bacteria working to help your body.

This delicate ecosystem is called your gut flora or gut microbiome. Ideally, your gut microbiome should be made up of a wide variety of good bacteria because they all play different roles in keeping you healthy. Eating plenty of plant foods will help ensure you have enough good bacteria.

Fermented foods are a particularly good source of probiotics, including yoghurt (with live cultures), kefir, kimchi, miso and sauerkraut. Probiotics can also be taken as supplements.

So you’ve consumed probiotics—then what? The good bacteria need to be nurtured and fed to stay alive, multiply and help keep your gut healthy. That’s where prebiotics come in.

Prebiotics are fibres that feed the gut bacteria and are important in maintaining a healthy, balanced gut. They lay the groundwork for the probiotics to flourish. If probiotics were the flowers in a garden, prebiotics would be the soil those flowers thrive in.

Prebiotics include fibre-rich foods like wholegrains, beans and legumes, fruits and vegetables. Inulin is another example of a prebiotic. It’s a type of soluble fibre that’s added to some food products because it improves gut health without changing the taste or texture of food. It’s found naturally in high amounts in chicory root, and in smaller amounts in foods like Jerusalem artichokes and onions.

For a healthy, happy gut try to include both probiotics and prebiotics in your diet every day. It can make a big difference to your gut almost immediately, with research showing changing your diet can improve your gut health in just days.

Try these healthy gut swaps

White for brown. Your gut will thank you when you swap refined grains for wholegrains. Introduce them slowly—try brown rice instead of white rice, or brown, grainy bread instead of white. Wholegrains are packed with nutrients that’ll have you feeling great.

Meat for lentils. Give your bolognese a veggie twist by using lentils instead of mince. Lentils contain fibre, protein and are lower in saturated fat. An easy and tasty way to get more fibre-packed veggies in your meals.

Dip for guacamole. While chips and dip is tempting, it’s also not very gut-friendly. A colourful and zesty home-made guacamole with veggie sticks can still satisfy your crunch cravings and your tastebuds, and is much healthier than its beige counterpart.   

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