Prebiotics vs Probiotics: What’s the Difference?

Intake of foods rich in prebiotics and probiotics is an essential aspect of a well-balanced diet.

However, to most people, probiotics and prebiotics are just two terms that mean the same thing.

But, they are different.

In this post, we will focus on prebiotics vs probiotics and show why they are important to your health. 

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What are prebiotics?

The concept of prebiotics was introduced in 1995 by Glenn Gibson and Marcel Roberfroid at Clinical Nutrition Centre in Cambridge, UK. They described prebiotics as a non-digestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by stimulating bacteria in the colon. This definition is still relatively unchanged. 

Indeed, prebiotics are foods, usually high-fiber foods, our body can’t digest. They act as food for gut flora. 

When discussing prebiotics, it’s also helpful to mention resistant starch. Resistant starch is a type of carbohydrate that resists digestion in the small intestine and ferments in the large intestine.

A compound is prebiotic when it’s:

  • Resistant to acidic pH in the stomach

  • Fermented by intestinal microbiota

  • Able to stimulate growth and/or activity of the intestinal bacteria, thereby improving the host’s health

Taking prebiotics improves the balance of microorganisms residing in your gut. 

How do they work?

As mentioned above, prebiotics are a source of food for bacteria in your gut. They are carbohydrates the body is unable to digest. Prebiotics are soluble fiber. Insoluble fiber, on the other hand, is not fermented by bacteria in the gut.

Prebiotics go down to the lower digestive tract. There, they act like food that helps the healthy bacteria grow.

An important mechanism of action for prebiotic fiber is fermentation in the colon and changes in gut microflora.

Your large intestine is one of the most diversely colonized and metabolically active organs. In fact, up to 1000 different species of bacteria reside in the colon. What makes the colonic environment favorable for bacterial growth is:

  • Slow transit time

  • Readily available nutrients

  • Favorable pH

The most significant advantage of prebiotics is the growth of target healthy gut bacteria. These microorganisms compete species considered dangerous to energy sources. Then, they exclude those species by protecting or promoting the production of favorable fermentation substances with immunomodulatory properties.

It’s also useful to mention bacteria in the gut turn prebiotics into butyrate. Butyrate is a type of short-chain fatty acid. Production of butyrate in the colon would be impossible without prebiotics. Why is this important? It matters because butyric acid can aid the management of Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel disease, among other health benefits.

Which foods are prebiotic?

Since prebiotics are fibers present in plant foods such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes, you can obtain enough from your diet.

Some of the best types of prebiotic food to include in your menu:

  • Bananas

  • Oats

  • Legumes, peas, and beans

  • Onions

  • Leeks

  • Dandelion greens

  • Asparagus

  • Jerusalem artichokes

  • Berries 

  • Chicory root

Many people also take inulin prebiotic supplements. Make sure to choose a high-quality product, though.

How are they beneficial?

Prebiotics are incredibly beneficial for our health and wellbeing.

Some of their most significant health benefits:

  • Decreased prevalence and duration of infectious and antibiotic-associated diarrhea

  • Reduced inflammation and symptoms linked with inflammatory bowel disease 

  • Enhanced bioavailability and uptake of minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and iron

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganism that exerts health benefits to the host upon digestion. In other words, probiotics are good bacteria that support gut microbiota, improve digestive health, and provide many other health benefits. You can obtain them through diet, but many people also take probiotics in supplement form. 

The definition of probiotics was developed in 2001 at the request of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Since then, scientific investigation of these live bacteria has grown substantially.

Also, demand for probiotics-containing foods expanded globally thanks to the incredible health potential of these microorganisms. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to have or get a good microbe in your gut.

How do they work?

Probiotics have a wide range of effects on the body. Each strain of these living bacteria may have its unique mechanism of action.

However, probiotics may work by helping the body maintain a healthy community of microorganisms in your GI tract. Or, probiotics may help the body’s community of microorganisms return to a healthy condition after being disturbed.

Additionally, probiotics may produce substances that exhibit favorable effects on gut health. These helpful bacteria also work by influencing the body’s immune response. After all, a great deal of the immune system resides in your gut.

Which foods are probiotic?

It’s entirely possible to obtain enough probiotic bacteria through diet. Some foods are natural sources of good bacteria, such as yogurt and kefir. However, not all yogurts are a good option for you.

To get probiotics, you should opt for high-quality, plain yogurt with live cultures. When in the store next time, you may want to check the label. There you will find the information regarding friendly bacteria present in that specific yogurt. In most cases, it’s a probiotic strain called Bifidobacterium.

Besides yogurt, you may also want to consume fermented foods. These foods contain beneficial bacteria that thrive on the naturally occurring fiber or sugar in the food. 

Some of the best examples of probiotic food you may want to include in your diet:

  • Sauerkraut 

  • Kombucha tea

  • Kimchi

  • Kefir (both dairy and nondairy)

  • Unpasteurized pickles

  • Unpasteurized pickled vegetables 

Why unpasteurized? It’s simple – the process of pasteurization kills these beneficial bacteria.

If you don’t eat fermented foods and other sources of probiotics, you may want to take a dietary probiotic supplement.

However, you should keep in mind not all supplements are equal.

Consult your doctor regarding the best options for you or go for a high-quality product. 

How are they important?

Probiotics have a significant impact on your health and wellbeing.

Benefits of probiotics:

  • Treating antibiotic-resistant diarrhea

  • Aiding management of irritable bowel syndrome and leaky gut

  • Improving overall digestive health

  • Promoting weight loss

  • Anti-inflammatory properties

  • Lowering total and LDL (bad) cholesterol

  • Providing modest reductions in blood pressure

  • Enhanced immune function

  • Reduced risk of infections

Difference between prebiotics vs probiotics

Throughout this post, you’ve probably noticed subtle differences in probiotics vs prebiotics. They have similar names, and both are crucial for a healthy gut. But, at the same time, they are entirely different.

The difference in probiotics vs prebiotics is this: Probiotics are good gut bacteria that eat prebiotics (a form of dietary fiber). In other words, prebiotics are foods for probiotics in your digestive system. While prebiotics are in fruits, vegetables, and legumes, probiotics are present in fermented food and yogurt.  

How is gut bacteria beneficial?

Your but contains good and bad bacteria. The balance between the two is necessary for our digestive health and overall wellbeing. It’s not uncommon for different factors that affect the delicate balance between these bacteria. An unhealthy diet is one of those factors. 

It is best to consume both probiotics and prebiotics because they are beneficial for good bacteria in the gut. The central role of good bacteria is to protect you from fungi and harmful bacteria.

Evidence shows good bacteria in the gut can strengthen the function of your immune system, relieve symptoms of depression, addresses obesity, and exhibit many other health effects. 

Additionally, your gut microbiota can metabolize nutrients from food and certain medications. It served as a protective barrier against intestinal infections and produced vitamin K. This micronutrient helps make various proteins necessary for blood clotting and the building of bones.

Besides healthy microbiome, the gut microbiota is also necessary for preventing or contributing to the treatment of certain health conditions.

For example, some bacterium strains can lessen the severity and frequency of symptoms and decrease inflammatory conditions associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Additionally, good bacteria could prevent inflammation that leads to a buildup of fatty plaque in the arteries.

For your reference, the buildup of plaque in blood vessels leads to atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a major risk factor for cardiovascular diseases and events such as heart attack and stroke.

How does food affect gut microbiota?

The food you eat has a direct influence on gut microbiota. This is yet another reason to adopt healthy eating habits and avoid unhealthy foods. For instance, high-fat and high-sugar diets are harmful to gut bacteria. As a result, this may lead to insulin resistance and other conditions.

Studies also show high-fat diet can enhance gut permeability and inflammation. High-fat diet-induced changes in the gut microbiome have been linked to increased disease risk.

So, if you feed the bad bacteria regularly, you put your health at risk of various complications.

Bad bacteria have the outstanding potential to grow faster and colonize more easily. They become stronger and make you more susceptible to weight gain, weak immune system, cardiovascular diseases, and other problems. But, at the same time, the gut doesn’t have enough good bacteria to fight the “bad guys.”

Your diet is the most important factor in maintaining delicate gut microbiota. For that reason, you need to enrich your menu with both prebiotics and probiotics. Foods rich in these organisms can add more variety to your diet and do wonders for your gut health, digestion, and overall well-being.


Prebiotics vs probiotics are not two terms depicting the same thing. As seen in this post, prebiotics are food for probiotics.

You need both for proper gut health, a robust immune system, and better quality of life. Strive to obtain them through diet or take supplements if necessary. 


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