Probiotics Vs Prebiotics

by | Jun 11, 2023 | Life

Understanding The Difference And Their Impact On The Microbiome Health

Although the terms probiotics and prebiotics sound somewhat similar, they are vastly different when it comes to their role in health. In Spite of their indifferent behaviors, these two components are a must in your daily diet to keep your gut in a good mood.

What are probiotics?

Your gut comprises a cluster of trillions of bacteria, some are good and others are bad. This clearly brings you to the conclusion that the good ones must be in abundance to keep you going. Probiotics will make this task easy. Probiotics are live bacteria that mimic the role of good or beneficial bacteria already present in your gut. Adding them to your diet will therefore be a boom to your gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is the term given to the population of microbes in your gut.

Since these probiotics come from outside, their introduction to your diet plan may cause bacteria-host interaction and in certain cases display side effects. Nothing to worry about, they will subside gradually. 

Foods enriched with probiotics

  • Yogurt is known to be the best source of probiotics. It improves bone health, lowers blood pressure, and is suitable for people who are lactose intolerant.
  • Buttermilk is the leftover liquid of butter where the milk used must be unpasteurized. It will contain a lot of beneficial bacteria and enhance the microbiome’s health.
  • Tempeh is made from soybeans that are cooked and fermented to increase the bacterial load.
  • Kimchi is a fermented dish widely consumed in Korea. It is made from cabbage fermentation using gut-friendly bacteria, bacterium, and lactobacillus. 
  • Kombucha and water kefir are two fermented drinks where kefir drink is made by adding kefir grains to sugary water but kombucha is the sweetened fermented black tea in China.
  • Kefir can also be taken as a smoothie when kefir grains are added to cow’s or goat’s milk. It has an even better composition of beneficial bacteria and yeast than yogurt.
  • Miso is Japanese and Asian food, is rich in gut-friendly bacteria, and is made from fermented soy.
  • Soft cheeses such as cheddar, parmesan, and Swiss cheeses deliver intact probiotics to your gastrointestinal tract to improve the microbiome’s health.
  • Sourdough is a typical loaf of bread, made from flour, water, salt, and a starter culture. It contains polyphenols which are fuel for your gut microbes, while also keeping your sugar levels under control.

What is prebiotics?

Once you understand probiotics, knowing of prebiotics is a must. They are the food for your good bacteria. Prebiotic foods are the indigestible food components that reach your gut and are broken down or absorbed by your gut bacteria and probiotics. They create a congenial environment for the gut microbes to flourish in the system and regain their balance. 

Foods enriched with prebiotics

  • Chicory root is a great source of fiber, antioxidant compounds and helps control blood glucose levels.
  • Garlic is a herb that acts as prebiotic food and has anti-inflammatory and lipid-lowering properties. It adds flavor to your food too.
  • Cabbage is rich in prebiotics apart from vitamins B and C.
  • Onions have antioxidant, anticancer, and antibiotic properties.
  • Leeks have abundant fiber and high amounts of vitamin K.
  • Kidney beans and soybeans contain proteins, potassium, and fiber
  • Chickpeas are rich in B vitamins, iron, and prebiotics.
  • Lentils are a good source of fiber, iron, vitamin B1, and potassium.
  • Watermelon is rich in fiber, keeps you hydrated, and lowers your blood pressure.
  • Bananas mostly unripe (green) have prebiotic effects. They also contain vitamins, minerals, and potassium.
  • Nuts and seeds such as almonds, and flaxseeds are good sources of fiber and reduce the amount of fat you digest and absorb.
  • Whole grains like bran, barley, and oats promote healthy bacteria and control blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
  • Cocoa is a tasty prebiotic food that improves the microbiome’s health.

When to take prebiotics and probiotics?

Probiotic-rich foods work best when taken on an empty stomach. So, the best thing you can do in the morning is take them before eating breakfast or before going to bed. This way, the good bacteria will reach your gut sooner and prepare your gut flora for better digestion when food gets in there.

On the contrary, prebiotics are not recommended to be taken empty stomach along with probiotics. They can retard the absorption of these fermented foods as prebiotic food stays in the stomach for as long as undigested food. So, try to take these after an hour of probiotics i.e. while taking your meal.

How do prebiotics and probiotics benefit the gut?

Prebiotics and probiotics both support the building and maintenance of a healthy colony of bacteria by creating an environment where microorganisms can flourish. If you wish to make probiotics more effective, you can use probiotics and prebiotics foods together which is termed as microbiome therapy.


Probiotics and prebiotics will reduce the colon transit time by improving the intestinal peristalsis i.e. the movement of intestinal tubes. Thus, the accumulated waste will be excreted with ease, relieving symptoms associated with constipation. Constipation treatment further prevents complications and the onset of related diseases that affect the gut microbiome in the long run.

Neutralize toxins

With the consumption of food, you may have unintentionally brought the microorganism or its toxins into your gut. These harmful toxins like mycotoxins and cyanotoxins can prove dangerous to your gut balance as they can kill the beneficial flora. As per some in vitro and in vivo studies, adding probiotics and prebiotics to your meal will help remove these toxins from your gut area. This will retain the diverse composition of the gut microbiome.

Improve nutrient load

If you have been taking too many antibiotics, your gut microbiome probably has deteriorated extensively. This will make you feel lethargic and low energy. So, when you take in a wide range of foods containing prebiotics, it controls your gut diversification as different species of bacteria need different nutrients to flourish. Apart from this, probiotics can absorb proteins and vitamins in your food better, along with prebiotics that aids in the breakdown of calcium and minerals.

Improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome(IBS)

One study showed that IBS symptoms improve significantly when given a combination of probiotics and prebiotics. The two main groups of probiotics, lactobacillus, and bifidobacterium, assist in strengthening the intestinal barrier and assist the immune system in removing harmful bacteria and nutrient absorption. Similarly, prebiotics also improves IBS by lowering the gut pH and improving levels of IgA antibodies. A gut free from diseases improves the gut microbiome in turn.

Improve mental health

A combination of prebiotics and probiotics has shown promising results to boost mood, and cognitive function, and lower stress and anxiety. They are effective in managing mental disorders like Alzheimer’s disease also. A healthy mind will be a way to a healthy gut.

Boosts immunity

Probiotics and prebiotics can enhance the production of antibodies which are proteins and act as a line of defense against invading pathogens. A reduction in the load of bad bacteria will give way to restoring gut microbiome health.

Anti-inflammatory properties

This food complex can reduce inflammation which is chronic when taken daily. This will in turn improve your immunity. Better immunity is a place for a healthy microbiome. 

Enhance exercise motivation

As discussed earlier, probiotics are good for absorption of amino acids or proteins. Therefore, they will aid in turning protein into muscle mass which will enhance your exercising capacity. Other than this, probiotics and prebiotics together boost the efficiency of the process of nutrient assimilation, increasing stamina and energy for workouts. Regular physical activity is a boon for your gut health and microbiome.

A simple recipe with tempeh to improve your gut health

Chili tempeh stir fry

Ingredients – long-stem broccoli, sesame oil, sliced and cut cubes of tempeh, ginger, red chili, and gochujang paste.

Method of preparation

  • Boil the broccoli for I minute and 30 seconds
  • Heat the oil in a pan and stir fry tempeh for 2-3 minutes and take on a plate. 
  • Fry the garlic, and chili for 2 minutes with broccoli.
  • Mix gochujang with 2 tbsp water and tempeh with the seeds.
  • Cook for 2 minutes and your dish is ready to be served

A Quick Kimchi Recipe to Increase the good gut bacteria 

Ingredients – Chinese cabbage, garlic cloves. Ginger, chili sauce, caster sugar, rice vinegar, radish, carrots, spring onions

Method of preparation

  • Slice the cabbage and tip into a bowl with salt and set aside. Meanwhile, make kimchi paste by making a smooth paste of garlic, ginger, chili sauce, sugar, and vinegar.
  • Rinse the cabbage, drain, and dry thoroughly. 
  • Transfer to a bowl and toss in the prepared paste with carrots, radish, and spring onions. Pack in a large jar, seal, and leave to ferment at room temperature overnight and then refrigerate.
  • Keep in the fridge for 2 weeks.


Despite the different roles probiotics and prebiotics play in your health, they are important to support the gut and aid in the digestion process. These foods create an environment for gut microbiomes to flourish and promote beneficial bacteria.

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Dr. Bob Singhal

Professor Bhupendra 'Bob' Singhal, has taught creativity by joy and right-brain thinking, is a renowned international architect, won major design competitions, has over 70 awards, publications, and media mentions, and served as President of the American Institute of Architects South Bay. In 2011, in his book Joy in Health and Happiness: Your Optimal Path to Success, Professor Singhal wrote about the transformative power of joy and helped readers learn to enhance their daily experience of it.


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