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Prebiotic & Probiotics…

What’s the difference?

Andrea Mayer

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You hear the word probiotic thrown around in daily discussions, in the news and every health journal article. But do you really even know what it is, does or means for your health? A probiotic is a micro-organism that lives in your intestinal tract and is referred to as the “good” bacteria. It’s considered to be good bacteria because it helps keep everything in balance in your body. Maintaining a neutral balance in acidity & alkalinity in the intestinal tract will ensure that most harmful bacteria won’t over produce or grow. These helpful bacteria or micro-organisms can help keep you regular, aides in the absorption of significant nutrients from food and keeps other harmful bacteria in the gut from over-developing.

Prebiotics are a specific form of fiber that are naturally found in certain foods, where probiotics are a form of bacteria that are healthy, promoting good intestinal & colon bacteria growth. Prebiotics are found naturally in most plant-based foods and are a special kind of insoluble fiber that can pass through the stomach & small intestine fully intact. What does that mean? These fibers can go all the way through the intestinal tract in its whole form in order to become food for the healthy bacteria in the colon. These prebiotics are really the food for the healthy colon bacteria to help support them to thrive and grow.

Neat fact: Prebiotics are not changed by heat, cold, acid or time, while probiotics are very sensitive and can be killed by heat, acid or aging.

So where do you find these great & healthy bacteria? In these foods listed below:

Pre-biotic food sources:

  • Bananas
    • On average, a small banana (about 6-7 inches in length) can have 12% daily fiber
    • The prebiotics in bananas, fructooligosaccharides , are what feed the bacteria in the intestines. There are more prebiotics in bananas with a little green on their peel
  • Legumes
    • Legumes have a high amount of fiber and most of it is in the form of the prebiotic
    • Blacks, navy, pinto beans will have the highest fiber content
  • Jerusalem artichokes, Jicama, Chicory root
    • Inulin are the prebiotic fibers that are in all these vegetables
  • Oatmeal
    • Some good whole grains like oatmeal will have beneficial soluble fiber that will help to regulate the intestinal system and feed the good bacteria
  • Raw Honey
    • Contains anti-fungal, anti-bacterial substances from the honeybee’s saliva which can help keep the “bad” bacteria from overpopulating in the intestines
  • Soy beans
    • Eating these in their whole form will give you the fiber, anti-oxidants & digestive acids that will be more beneficial than eating tofu or processed soy products

Pro-biotic food sources:

  • Kimchi
    • Look for unpasteurized kimchi.
    • The canning process will kill the probiotics/microorganisms in the kimchi
  • Sauerkraut
    • Again, look for unpasteurized sauerkraut as the canning process will kill the good bacteria
    • Both kimchi & sauerkraut will be found in the refrigerated section of the store if it is truly unpasteurized
  • Kefir
    • Kefir can contain up to 10 different types of active bacteria (micro-organisms)
    • You can find kefir in both milk form or in water or juice
  • Acidophilus milk
    • This milk is fermented with the good bacteria: Lactobacillus acidophilus
    • It contains this great pro-biotic bacteria and is easier for most people to digest
  • Yoghurt
    • Look for “live active cultures” on the label OR
    • Find a brand that lists lactobacillus and acidophilus as active ingredients
  • Miso
    • Miso is a fermented bean paste that has been known to contain up to 100 (or more) different bacteria strains
    • Fresh miso will be in the refrigerated section
    • Fresh miso contains active cultures rather than the powder version
  • Pickles
    • Look for pickles in sea salt & water solutions, vinegar pickling will kill the good micro-organisms
  • Tempeh
    • fermented soybean patty will be easier to digest than beans & other soy based products
    • not only will it be easy to digest, it will also help increase your pro-biotic intak
  • Kombucha tea
    • One of the most up & coming fermented teas that contain active cultures


  • Microalgae (spirulina, chlorella)
    • These are more in the supplemental realm rather than food
    • Not only do these microalgae contain healthy pro-biotics, but they also are high in B vitamins and protein

Who may need extra prebiotics & probiotics?

  • Anyone who has had a round of antibiotics
  • Someone who has immune-deficiencies or diseases: HIV/AIDS, Lupus, MS, Cancer, etc
  • A person taking corticosteroids or multiple uses of inhalers for asthma
  • Anyone more prone to contracting flus or colds may also benefit from pre & probiotics


For a great website that shows some extensive research on pre-biotics:

Andrea Mayer, RD

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