PCC | What is the difference between a probiotic and a prebiotic?

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What is the difference between a probiotic and a prebiotic?

Do both offer the same benefits for my immune system?

PCC Taste | January 2012

Ask the Nutritionist podcast

Learn about probiotics and prebiotics in this podcast.

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Probiotics are good bacteria found in fermented/cultured foods that find a home in our digestive system. These beneficial microorganisms assist with normal digestion and benefit our immune system. Probiotic-rich foods include yogurt and kefir, miso and tempeh, sauerkraut and kimchi, and kombucha, the wildly popular fermented tea.

Probiotics can be identified by their specific strain, such as acidophilus, bifidus, or rhamnosus. Dozens of different strains of bacteria have been identified, and often they are listed on a label as colony-forming units (CFUs), the number of bacterial cells estimated to colonize the GI tract per serving.

Prebiotics are unique carbohydrates found in certain foods that our bodies cannot digest (similar to fiber). The prefix "pre" is a hint: They are "foods" that nourish good probiotic bacteria. Food sources of prebiotics include sunchokes (also called Jerusalem artichokes), onions and garlic, whole grains, honey and maple syrup. Both prebiotics and probiotics also are available as a dietary supplement.

There is no established recommendation for our daily intake of probiotics or prebiotics, but regular consumption of both is a good idea. These good bacteria benefit our immune system in a variety of ways. First, once probiotic bacteria take up residence in our GI tract, they can prevent other (potentially pathogenic) bacteria from colonizing the same space. Second, many species of good bacteria can increase the production of immune cells in the intestines. Third, some strains even secrete proteins that kill foreign bacteria that otherwise would make us sick.

Probiotics really come to our rescue during cold and flu season. Researchers have shown that children supplementing with a combined prebiotic and probiotic have fewer colds and fewer sick days from school.


Probiotics to boost immunity

Boost your immune system naturally by eating foods rich in probiotics. Our health and body care department also offers high-quality probiotics in supplement form.

by Nick Rose, M.S., PCC Nutrition Educator

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