Prebiotics and Probiotics: Which Should You be Taking?

 | 15 Comments  | Articles, Health, Nutrition


People are into pro/prebiotics.

And with good reason! You might have heard about probiotics being in yogurt and lurking around in your stomach somewhere and you know they’re supposed to be good for you. But what are probiotics exactly?

Put simply, probiotics are good bacteria. But how can bacteria be good?

The National Center for Complemetary and Integrative Health (NIH) tells us, “Although people often think of bacteria and other microorganisms as harmful ‘germs’, many microorganisms help our bodies function properly. For example, bacteria that are normally present in our intestines help digest food, destroy disease-causing microorganisms, and produce vitamins. Large numbers of microorganisms live on and in our bodies. In fact, microorganisms in the human body outnumber human cells by 10 to 1. Many of the microorganisms in probiotic products are the same as or similar to microorganisms that naturally live in our bodies”.

Probiotics and healthy gut flora have also been linked to preventative treatment for vaginal yeast and urinary tract infections, helping maintain a healthy body weight, making migraine headaches less common and severe, and even fighting neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.

So, like the NIH says, we normally have a heathy amount of good bacteria, or probiotics, living in our gut. This is often known as gut flora. But your healthy, balanced gut flora can easily get thrown out of whack. Here are a few of the culprits:

  • If you get sick and are prescribed antibiotics. Antibiotics are powerful drugs. They wipe out almost all of the bacteria in your body, which kills what’s making you sick and helps you to get better quickly. But antibiotics also kill all the good bacteria. Once the bacteria is gone it’s really important to help your body get back into balance by replacing the good bacteria in your belly.
  • Colonics or a bad case of diarrhea. It’s a little gross to think about, but if everything in your digestive system is quickly flushed out you can lose your colony of bacteria right along with it.
  • Poor diet. A diet high in sugar and processed foods can have a low amount of beneficial bacteria or “food” for the good bacteria that helps the good bacteria thrive.
So we should definitely have some probiotics in our lives and guts, yes? Here are some ways to up your colony of good bacteria.
  • Eating! Foods like yogurt (minimally processed and unsweetened), green peas, sauerkraut, kombucha, dark chocolate (yes!), kimchi, green olives, kefir, pickles, miso, cottage cheese, tempeh, and any fermented foods. If you’re unfamiliar with fermented foods, check out my article here. And if you’d like to make your own fermented veggies, check out my tutorial/recipe here. It’s super worth it and super delicious, trust me!
  • Supplements. There are tons of probiotic supplements out there. Any good health foods store will have a decent selection and lots of grocery stores are starting to carry them as well. (Especially more health conscious stores, like Whole Foods.) Make sure your supplements are in a refrigerated section. Bacteria are alive and will die in room or warmer temps.
Ok! So now you’re ready to put lots of good probiotic good bacteria in your tummy. But there’s a second step that’s just as important and one you might not have heard of: prebiotics.
Remember when I said above that the good bacteria needs it’s own food in your belly to thrive? Believe it or not you also need to feed your little bacteria buddies to keep them flourishing. You can take a prebiotic supplement or integrate prebiotic foods into your diet.

Legumes, beans and peas, oats, bananas, berries, jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, dandelion greens, garlic, leeks, cabbage, bran, root veggies, apples, and onions are all good sources of prebiotics that will keep your gut flora happy, healthy, probiotic-y, and flourishing.

So which ‘biotic should you be taking? Both! Probiotic and prebiotics are absolutely vital to good health. Whether you’re taking supplements or making sure you get plenty of probiotic and prebiotic foods in your diet, gut flora is something that shouldn’t be neglected.

What are your experiences with pro and prebiotics? Do you take or eat them? How have they affected your health? Do you prefer supplements or foods? As always, I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments.

In good health,


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15 comments on “Prebiotics and Probiotics: Which Should You be Taking?”

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    Private  | 

    Very informative article. I’ve been taking probiotic supplements on and off. Much of the foods you mentioned, especially fermented foods, I enjoy eating frequently. The prebiotics, I never really understood them until now. So Thank You 😉
    I will most definitely make certain I include plenty of those foods as well…..garlic is a HUGE favorite of mine, so it will be pretty easy.

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    Private  | 

    Thanks Zuzka, the article motivated me to keep fermenting and not give in. I have been making my own kombucha for a year or so and my kids love it, it’s so tasty. We couldn’t really do keifer, the only thing we liked it in was smoothies. But with so many fermenting options there are a lot to choose from. You just have to find the one you like and will continue eating (or drinking!)

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    Private  |  USA

    Thank you for clarifying the difference. I feel like I’ve heard a lot about probiotics lately. Great article. As always, thanks for everything, Z! 🙂

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    Private  |  EAST FREETOWN, Massachusetts, United States

    I take a probiotic everyday, it just seems to help everything flow better. Of course eating right helps also, I know when i eat something bad because my belly will feel gross, so I try to stay on the up and up. I will start to incorporate a pre biotic also, didn’t realize about this, thanks for the info!

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    Private  |  Seattle, Washington

    Lots of people have taken movies and television too seriously and think all the bacteria is out there going to kill them. They lift toilet seats with their feet and even stand on the seat to poop. Can’t seem to understand how stupid that is. 99% of all bacteria is either harmless to them or beneficial. Research suggests children need exposure to these bacteria to lower the chances that they will have allergies and others health issues. Had a tenet who covered all doorknobs with plastics bags and never took a bath. Hard for me to imagine that kind of fear dominating my life.

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      Private  |  Minnesota, USA

      In my household, it was normal for my child to play in mud, dirt, and with animals; locally and in the various states and countries we have visited. She has thus far always been healthier than her classmates. Unfortunately, I have encountered parents who would glare and sometimes even say things to me, treating me like a “bad influence mom” for not keeping my kid out of the dirt, etc. I told those people about the research that you mentioned & some would be interested, but most had no intention of considering anything different than what they were already accustomed to.

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      Private  | 

      Definitely food for thought. With 2 little ones, I never really thought about how germ phobic I have become.
      Thanks for the insight.

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        Private  |  Seattle, Washington

        Well, if they for some reason have immune system problems you do need to be careful. Nobody wants little ones sick and it not easy to watch a kid get seriously ill. Anyway our skin is an amazing organ able to stop most bad bacteria from entering us. The problem usually is touching our mouth, nose or eye with bad stuff on our hands. At least this the way I get a sick most often. Cuts on our hands is the other common entry point.

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    Private  | 

    I really like Bio K because it has a non-dairy option for all us dairy-sensitive folks – like most people when your digestion isn’t good! I only take it when I’m ill or if I get antibiotics, which is almost never thankfully! I have recently started taking Metamucil by adding it with my apple cider vinegar before bigger meals. It makes you feel full and helps with digestion – would definitely recommend!

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      Private  |  San Diego, CA, USA

      Hi Claire, does the Metamucil have any taste?

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    Private  |  Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

    I’m a big fan of kefir, I had trouble digesting dairy but now it’s no problem. Cheese still gives me headaches though. Home-made / fermented sauerkraut is helpful too but it can be tough on my teeth.

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    Private  | 

    Enzymatic Therapy Acidophilus Pearls, Tillamook Farmstyle Greek Yogurt and lots of fruits and berries litter my diet to get the pre/probiotics I need daily.

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    Private  |  Jura, France

    anyone tried RESTORE? feeling like on Titanic’s rescue boats, waiting for 911 to come pick me (or like a kid in front of X-mas tree?!) I should receive my Restore bottle next week.
    It helps to tighten the junctions of our membranes, starting with the gut lining. A lot of things to be expected from the product that sounds very promising…so pre/pro biotics supplement should not be needed. I just discovered it through Chalene Johnson’s podcast /interview with Dr. Zach Bush.

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      Private  |  Jura, France

      expecting mostly gut health improvement first, but also joints and brain fog relief. Then what else? who knows? better veins in my legs and pelvic area? no more hairloss?

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