Prebiotics vs Probiotics

You’ve probably heard the words prebitoic and probiotic thrown around recently. Both of these words became more mainstream as gut health found its rightful place in the health and wellness scene. That’s because prebiotics and probiotics are essential to good gut health, and good gut health is essential to overall health.

Loads of products contain pre- and probiotics:

  • Supplements and pills
  • Bananas 
  • Yogurt 
  • Sauerkraut
  • Some granola bars
  • Some new sodas

Because so many different items contain prebiotics and probiotics, it can be difficult to see the connection. I mean, what do granola bars and sauerkraut have in common?

In this article, we’ll learn the difference between prebiotics and probiotics, why they’re so important, and which one is most important to overall health. 

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are food for our good gut bacteria; they nourish the gut bacteria that already exist and help it not just grow, but thrive. 

Think of it this way: if our gut bacteria are “seeds,” prebiotics are the essential “water” that grows and nourishes those seeds, allowing them to become big, leafy plants and flowers. Read more here.

Prebiotics and Fiber 

Prebiotics are a form of soluble fiber, which is an indigestible fiber found in plants. Soluble fiber arrives to your colon intact and then begins to interact and ferment with your gut bacteria. This fermentation is crucial to your good gut bacteria because it allows them to eat and be nourished.  

Put simply: soluble fiber = a prebiotic = a gut bacteria feast

Where to Find Prebiotics

Prebiotic fiber is found in some foods you may already be eating:

  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas 
  • Oatmeal
  • And more!

If you’re having digestive issues or find it difficult to incorporate prebiotic foods into your diet (we get it, onions and garlic at every meal is stinky), I recommend finding the right supplement for you or trying out Mayawell’s delicious and healthy prebiotic soda.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live bacteria we introduce into our gut. These new bacteria join our existing gut bacteria and they live alongside each other, hopefully reaching some kind of a healthy balance. 

Probiotics can be particularly helpful if you’ve recently been on antibiotic medication. Antibiotics kill all bacteria in your body — both good and bad. This helps you recover from sickness, but it also means that your body needs to rebuild afterward. Taking probiotic supplements or eating probiotic-rich foods can help your body restore itself more quickly. 

Where to Find Probiotics

Probiotics, like prebiotics, are also found in many foods you may already be eating:

  • Yogurt
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Some soft cheeses
  • Sourdough bread
  • Fermented items, such as pickles and kimchi

However, you can also consume probiotic supplements to give your gut a boost if you’re having digestive issues. 

Which One Is More Important?

We all have competing priorities, especially when it comes to health:

  • Exercise!
  • Eat veggies!
  • Meditate! 
  • More green juice!

That’s why it’s necessary to prioritize and ensure we’re practicing the most helpful behaviors, most of the time. Though both pre- and probiotics are helpful, I argue prebiotics are more helpful. 

Think of it this way: you can keep introducing new gut bacteria every day, but if you don’t feed them they’ll keep dying and you’ll need to keep introducing more. Your gut microbiome won’t become self-sustaining.

Let’s go back to our garden analogy:

  • Gut bacteria are the seeds
  • Prebiotics are the necessary water

We can then imagine probiotics are new seeds we’re planting. 

We can keep planting new seeds, which may sprout, but without regular water, those seeds will never flourish into big, beautiful plants. Yes, new seeds are important! But without water, we never see the benefits.

Easy Ways to Add Prebiotics to Your Diet

There are a few simple and effective ways to add prebiotics to your diet. Making these small changes can make a big impact on your overall health:

Start with Breakfast

Eat a breakfast high in soluble fiber, that way you won’t have to worry about fiber for the rest of the day. Check out this article for easy and delicious recipes, and try these tasty breakfast muffins high in prebiotic fiber.

Enhance Your Favorite Meals

Add prebiotic veggies to your favorite meals (even smoothies!). This will add an extra kick of fiber to the meals you already eat and enjoy.

Drink Your Prebiotics

Drink your prebiotics with Maywell’s healthy prebiotics sodas. With 20% of your daily value of fiber in each can, it’s the easiest and most delicious way to keep your gut health on track.

Easy, Healthy Breakfast Muffins for Gut Health

We all love a good weekend brunch: Eggs Benedict on a crispy english muffin, pancakes, mimosas. It’s not difficult to get out of bed to enjoy an elegant breakfast spread in the company of friends. However, breakfast Monday – Friday is a different story. Personally, I do not wake up early enough to prepare Eggs Benedict for me and my family, and then sit down to casually enjoy it before waltzing out of my home for my 9-5. If you do, I tip my metaphorical hat to you.

97% of Americans agree breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and many studies show the importance of eating breakfast, especially with children. Furthermore, kids who eat breakfast are shown to have higher test scores. However, even though 97% of Americans agree breakfast is important, only 44% of Americans actually consume breakfast. Those who don’t listed the main reasons why:

  • Too busy
  • Were hungry, but didn’t feel like eating
  • Weren’t hungry

Apart from being “too busy,” skipping breakfast has become more mainstream in the trendy world of health and wellness. Skipping is labeled “intermittent fasting” and is especially popular in the keto diet realm. Though there are benefits to intermittent fasting, there is little research on the long-term effects. Calorie-loading earlier in the day is thought to be more beneficial, as well, suggesting breakfast is not the meal to be skipped if someone is interested in fasting.  

Should you eat breakfast? 

There are conflicting reviews as to whether breakfast is a sign of superior health, but there are a few things we know to be pretty darn true:

  • It’s difficult to focus when you’re hungry and thinking about food. Skipping breakfast often means poorer mental performance. 
  • Making healthy food choices is challenging when you’re hungry. The office donuts are much more tempting if your stomach is empty.  
  • Eating a satiating meal in the morning means you won’t have to think about food until lunch, making you a more present employee/parent/etc. 

But all the scientific evidence in the world couldn’t get me to choke down a Soylent before work. The most important meal of the day isn’t necessarily breakfast — it’s the meal you enjoy. 

That’s why I’m sharing my Aunt Mary’s simple and healthy breakfast muffin recipe. The first time she made them, I ate about 5 every day until they were gone (they didn’t last long).

They’re quick to make, you can swap out ingredients depending on what’s in your pantry, and they’re perfect for on-the-go mornings. Additionally, they’re packed with everything you need to carry you through until lunch:

  • Whole grains for slow-digesting carbs
  • Healthy fats for satiation
  • Protein to support muscle-growth and brain health

The best thing about them? They’re delicious! My kids and I look forward to eating them every morning. 

Healthy Breakfast Muffin Recipe

This recipe has everything you need to keep your gut happy and healthy, too. The oatmeal, bananas, and fruit provide ample fiber to keep your good gut bacteria nourished. A happy gut means you’ll benefit from these muffins all day long:

  • Improved nutrient absorption
  • Better blood glucose regulation
  • Regular, pain-free bowel movements

Ingredients

1 ¾ cups oatmeal

1 cup oat flour (you can make your own my blending up oatmeal in a food processor, or sub for regular oatmeal)

1 ½ cups boiling water

1 cup maple syrup

½ cup coconut oil or nut butter

2 eggs

1 cup chopped pecans

1 cup raisins or cherries

1 tsp baking soda

¾ tsp salt

4 tsp cinnamon

Optional: two ripe bananas

Directions

  1. Prepare muffin tin with cooking spray or muffin cups. 
  2. Preheat oven to 350°.
  3. Mix oatmeal, oat flour, boiling water, maple syrup, and coconut oil/nut butter together in a large bowl. Let sit for 20 minutes. 
  4. In a separate bowl, add eggs, pecans, raisins/cherries, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and bananas (optional). Mix until evenly combined, and add to other ingredients. 
  5. Mix until evenly combined.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until muffins are not wobbly in the center.

If you’re looking for the perfect on-the-go drink to pair with these muffins, I love Mayawell’s Pineapple Mango prebiotic soda. It has a touch of anti-inflammatory turmeric and 5g of prebiotic fiber to keep your gut on track. The pineapple paired with the banana in the muffin is [chef’s kiss]. 

What are prebiotics?

If you’re a gut-health enthusiast, you may notice that the iPhone doesn’t recognize the word “prebiotics.” That invalidation from Apple makes the modern American ask some questions:

  • Are prebiotics even real, or is this like Dogecoin?
  • If they are real, what are they?
  • Do they mean probiotics, and need to work on their proofreading skills? 

 

All valid questions. That’s why we’ll go over what prebiotics are (yes, they’re real!), and why they’re an important part of any healthful diet.

Definition of prebiotic 

The word prebiotic comes from two root words:

  1. Pre, meaning “before”
  2. Biotic, meaning “produced by life or living organisms”

Merriam-Webster defines prebiotic as “existing or occurring before the origin of life.” (Which sounds pretty existential and profound, doesn’t it?)

When we piece this together through the lens of gut health, we come to the following conclusions:

  1. Prebitoics come before a certain outcome. You can’t have good gut health without first getting your prebiotics right.
  2. Prebiotics involve real, living things. In our gut, prebiotics promote the life of good bacteria all throughout our gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Put very simply, prebiotics are fermentable fiber that help nourish gut bacteria found throughout the intestinal tract. If we were to consider gut bacteria to be “seeds,” we could consider prebiotics to be the essential “water” that grows and nourishes them.

The importance of gut bacteria

 

You may be wondering why we need to worry about our gut bacteria in the first place. It’s a good question! We spend a lot of time washing bacteria off of our hands and cursing bacteria for bad breath on our first date, so why focus on preserving bacteria in your gut? 

 

When we talk about the gut, we’re talking about everything from your mouth to your bum, and all the stuff in-between, too: esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine. 

 

Each part of your gut is lined with bacteria, and this collection of bacteria is called your gut flora, or gut microbiome. Nearly 100 trillion micro-organisms live in our GI tracts. That’s more than the entire Earth’s population! 

 

Your gut bacteria allow you to convert food into what your body needs to thrive. Your gut bacteria:

  • Break down food into forms your body can utilize
  • Assist with mineral and Vitamin absorption
  • Keep your immune system strong
  • Regulate blood sugar
  • Control inflammatory responses 
  • Boost metabolism 
  • Improve mental clarity 

 

Essentially, gut bacteria are the super-tiny MVPs of the GI tract. You couldn’t digest without them.

Prebiotics vs. probiotics

If prebiotics nourish our good gut bacteria (remember, “pre” = “before”), it makes sense that probiotics are new living bacteria we can introduce to the digestive system to sit alongside existing bacteria. 

Probiotics can be helpful. If you’re experiencing digestive issues, introducing new bacteria to your gut can help restore balance to your GI tract. However, if you’re not giving your gut bacteria enough food, they’ll continue to die. 

Let’s go back to our garden analogy: say we’re experiencing a terrible drought and our summer garden is shriveling up into a dead, barren wasteland. We can continue to bring new plants and flowers into our garden, but without any water (prebiotics), those plants will continue to shrivel up and die. Furthermore, we waste our time, money, and energy in the process. 

That’s not to say probiotics aren’t helpful—they can be! But they should be accompanied by prebiotics and a healthy dose of fiber. 

Prebiotics vs. fiber

Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of plants, and there are two types: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. 

  • Soluble fiber ferments in the colon (these are prebiotics)
  • Insoluble fiber does not ferment in the colon (these are NOT prebiotics)

Because soluble fiber ferments in the colon, this means it interacts with your gut bacteria. The fermentation allows gut bacteria to eat, be nourished, and grow. 

So, all prebiotics are fiber, but not all fibers are prebiotics. (Much like all hotdogs are sandwiches, but not all sandwiches are hotdogs.)

Balancing your prebiotics 

Gut bacteria, much like you and me, feed off of different foods. Some love avocados, others love celery, some love pineapple, etc. That’s why eating a varied diet is important; it ensures all of your different gut bacteria are getting the nutrients they need.

How to incorporate prebiotics into your diet

Lucky for all of us, there are tons of delicious plants out there that contain the prebiotic fiber we need to keep our gut microbiome happy and healthy. A few of my favorite staples include:

  • Jerusalem Artichoke
  • Garlic
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas

But, as much as I love Jerusalem Artichoke and garlic, incorporating them into my daily diet just isn’t realistic. That’s why I’ve found other ways to get my needed daily dose of prebiotics.

There are many capsules and supplements out there to help boost your prebiotic intake, but it can be hard to know what’s good quality vs. what’s a marketing scheme. And honestly, I usually forget to take these. There’s no enjoyment that comes with taking a pill, so I find it challenging to stay on track.

That’s why Mayawell is the only way I add prebiotics to my diet now. It comes in 4 bubbly flavors and has 5g of organic, hand-harvested prebiotic fiber in every can (that’s 20% of your daily value!). It’s also free of additives, fillers, stabilizers, and refined sugar. At only 40 calories per can, it’s the perfect, delicious way to reach your fiber goals. And it tastes good, so I never forget to drink it. 

Remember how we talked about balancing your prebiotics? Well, the cool thing about this prebiotic soda is that the Active Agave used to sweeten it retains up to 60% of a person’s existing gut bacteria. This means it’s diverse: it appeals to more types of gut bacteria than most foods.

Let’s see what you learned

Are you really ready for the real world of gut health? Could you explain what prebiotics are to your mom? Test your new knowledge with the fill-in-the-blank below:

  1. If we were to consider gut bacteria to be “seeds,” we could consider __________ to be the essential “water” that grows and nourishes them.
  2. __________ are new living bacteria we can introduce to the digestive system to sit alongside existing bacteria.
  3. Dietary ________ is an indigestible part of plants, and there are two types: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
  4. True/False: Eating a varied diet is important; it ensures all of your different gut bacteria are getting the nutrients they need.

Answers

  1. Prebiotics
  2. Probiotics
  3. Fiber
  4. True