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Ask an Expert - Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics and Prebiotics
Probiotics and Prebiotics
Are probiotics and prebiotics the same? What are the good sources of prebiotics and probiotics?

Yeong Rhee, Ph.D., R.D., Professor Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences, NDSU

No, probiotics and prebiotics are not the same. Probiotics are the foods that contain live/active microorganisms (bacteria). Prebiotics are nondigestible food ingredients that promote good bacterial growth in the gut; prebiotics are the “fuel for probiotic bacteria in the gut.” When food products contain probiotics and prebiotics, they are called “synbiotics.”

Bifidobacteria and lactobacilli are the most commonly added/present bacteria in probiotics; however, probiotics may contain various types of probiotic bacteria, and individuals may experience different responses to probiotics.

Nondigestible foods such as some dietary fibers are good examples of prebiotics. You may find the following prebiotics from the ingredient list on food package: fructans (inulin, oligofructose, fructooligosaccharides), lactulose, galactooligosaccharides.

Research has found some beneficial effects of prebiotics and probiotics in gut health. To name a few, prebiotics and probiotics are effective in the management of diarrhea, constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. However, many beneficial health effects of prebiotics and probiotics are inconclusive; thus, further research is needed.

Good Sources of Pro- and Prebiotics

Probiotic bacteria can be found as capsules, tablets or the powder form of supplements,* or can be added to foods during the manufacturing process (probiotics).

The followings are good food sources of prebiotics:

  • yogurt, milk, aged cheese, kefir (fermented milk drink), kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and soy beverages
  • chicory, asparagus, leeks, onions, garlic, artichokes, tomatoes, bananas, rye, barley
  • soybeans, chickpeas, field peas, green peas, lentils, mung beans, lima beans, northern beans, navy beans
  • fillings, dressings, cereals, yogurt, dairy products and frozen desserts may contain inulin and oligofructose as fat replacement; check the ingredient list on the food label.

You can create your own synbiotics at meal/snack times.

Here are some examples:

  • Add banana (prebiotics) to your yogurt (probiotics)
  • Sprinkle aged cheese (probiotics) on a salad or on lentil soup (prebiotics)

*Because probiotic supplements contain live cultures of bacteria, consulting your doctor before taking probiotic supplements is important. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved any health claims for probiotics.

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