Have you ever been recommended to take probiotics when you go overseas? Would you ever think of using probiotics when you’re feeling constipated? What about prebiotics?


The word “probiotics” is originally derived from a Greek word meaning “for life”. Probiotics refers to live microorganisms in your gut – “good bacteria”.

Many different types of bacteria are considered to be probiotics. The most common probiotics for commercial use are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Probiotics can be obtained from natural food synthesis (probiotics occur naturally from food fermentation in the large intestine) or food supplements like yoghurt and fermented foods. They work to improve intestinal health by fighting “bad bacteria”. We need the right balance of good and bad bacteria to stay healthy.

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Many of us neglect the importance of prebiotics. Prebiotics are a non-digestible part of foods like bananas, onions, garlic, the skins of apples and legumes. Undigested prebiotic fibre travels through the small intestine and is fermented when it reaches the large intestine, or colon. This fermentation process feeds beneficial bacteria colonies, including probiotic bacteria, and helps to increase the number of desirable bacteria in our gut, which are associated with better health and reduced risk of disease.

To avoid using scientific jargon, let’s use a metaphor to help you to understand the difference between probiotics and prebiotics. In order to start a garden with flourishing flowers, we need seeds, which are like probiotic bacteria. To raise the plants, we also need water and fertiliser – prebiotic fibre – which provide nutrients to the soil. A blossoming garden is comparable to a healthy body.

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Health benefits

Did you know that the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics go far beyond helping you to go to the loo? Prebiotics and probiotics are associated with many health benefits, including:

  • Maintaining optimal gut function, including gut transit time
  • Improving tolerance to antibiotics
  • Increasing calcium absorption and improving bone density
  • Regulating the immune system by reducing inflammation
  • Improving gut homeostasis (e.g., reducing chronic intestinal inflammation)
  • Improving the markers of glucose homeostasis and lipid metabolism
  • Reducing the overall risk of certain chronic diseases (e.g., type 2 diabetes)

Food sources

Now that we understand the benefits of prebiotics and probiotics, in which foods can they be found?



Asparagus, leeks, yams, apple skins, bananas, onions, garlic, artichokes, chicory root, legumes

Kefir, yoghurt (regular milk/coconut milk/soy milk), miso soup, kimchi, kombucha

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