Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: Differences, Benefits, and Food Sources

Looking for a game changer to help get your gut health under control? It all boils down to having a healthy microbiota (or gut flora)—the complex ecosystem of trillions of intestinal microorganisms—bacteria, fungi, and viruses included.  

Disrupting this delicate ecosystem can send you on a tailspin, as it can affect your health. 

In fact: An imbalance of microbiota can cause your digestion, immune health, cognitive health, and mood to spiral out of control.  

This is where prebiotics and probiotics come in. These gut health agents play a role in restoring your microbiota balance. Okay, you might think it counterintuitive to intentionally take anything sounding like a bacteria—but these good microbes can be spectacularly good for your health.

Below is all you need to know about probiotics and prebiotics—the major differences between them, how to include them in your diet, and how to benefit from both. 

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics—Too Similar to Be Different… OR?

Both prebiotics and probiotics support a healthy gut microbiome. And though typographically, they differ by a single letter; they’re pretty different in actuality. That said, what’s the difference between the two? 

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics 
Probiotics Prebiotics 
DefinitionProbiotics are live, beneficial bacteria or yeasts that naturally live in your gut. 
They help you get the right balance of good and bad gut bacteria, aiding healthy digestion. 
Prebiotics feed probiotics and help them thrive and reproduce inside your gut.  
By ingesting prebiotics in a supplement form or through food sources helps you sustain the naturally present probiotic bacteria in your gut. 
Sources Probiotic bacteria can be found in fermented foods and probiotic supplements.The major source of prebiotics is plant-based foods. Think fruits, veggies, and whole grains. These are all rich in the so-called nondigestible fermentable carbohydrates. 

Health Benefits of Probiotics 

Beneficial gut bacteria outnumber harmful ones under normal conditions. So the powerful balancing role probiotics play can have far-reaching effects on your health. 

Research on probiotics is limited. Yet, they’re starting to emerge as agents that can boost digestion and metabolism, and reduce inflammation.

In fact, according to Harvard Health Publishing, probiotics may also help:

  • Protect against harmful bacteria (preventing infection)
  • Improve digestion and the absorption of nutrients
  • Improve the immune function [1]

They do this by creating a protective barrier against bad bacteria in your gut. 

Yet, the main function of probiotics is with your digestive system and gut health. There’s plenty of research that backs this up. For example, probiotics can offset the bacterial imbalance caused by antibiotic treatment. They’re also great at breaking down protein and fat in your digestive tract, making them spectacularly useful in the recovery of convalescent patients.

As far as research goes, a 2017 Cochrane review showed probiotics can reduce the risk of antibiotic-related diarrhea. The patients taking probiotics and antibiotics together reduced their risk of developing diarrhea by as much as 60%. [2]

Furthermore, there’s evidence that probiotics can help with irritable bowel syndrome. According to clinical trials in people with IBS, probiotics outperformed the placebo by a significant margin. To top that off, the trials also reported significant improvement in IBS scores. [3]

Health Benefits of Prebiotics 

Prebiotics are critical in maintaining normal gastrointestinal function. Yet, their benefits chiefly revolve around producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFA are the main end-products of prebiotic fermentation, and that’s why ingesting prebiotics is important. When you take in soluble fiber, it gets fermented by your colonic microflora and the beneficial SCFA is produced.

SCFA helps protect your intestinal mucosa barrier—the first line of your intestinal defense. This barrier, in turn, keeps out any undesirable contents and lets nutrients in.  This makes prebiotics particularly useful for potentially treating gastrointestinal conditions. Crohn’s disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) included. 

IBS, for example, is caused by imbalanced microbiota. Prebiotics can greatly increase microbial diversity, helping reduce symptoms in patients with IBS. [4]  

Moreover, some data indicates prebiotics can be used for treating obesity. It’s found that low-grade intestinal inflammation is one of the major causes of obesity. This inflammation process disrupts the metabolism of glucose and the absorption of fats. Scientists have found that lowering this low-grade inflammation can promote weight loss—and prebiotics help. [5] There’s also some evidence that prebiotics can regulate satiety and help with energy homeostasis. [6]

Prebiotic vs. Probiotic Foods, Anyone? 

fiber-rich foods and foods containing good gut bacteria can help you maintain a balanced gut microbiome

(Image source: Unsplash)

Probiotics and prebiotics can give you a huge gain when it comes to overall health, but how do you increase your intake, and what food sources are rich in these beneficial compounds? Well, this one’s easy. We’ll break probiotic and prebiotic foods down into a list so you can easily compare and contrast them and put them to good use.

The end-game here is to include a variety of foods in your diet so you’re consuming a range of prebiotics that can fuel all the specific species of live bacteria for maximum health gain. 

So, without further ado, probiotics can be found in many fermented foods, such as: 

Probiotic-Rich Foods:

  • Kefir, a fermented milk drink like yogurt
  • Sauerkraut and kimchi (made by fermenting cabbage, but there are options with other pickled vegetables as well)
  • Fermented soybean products like miso, tempeh, and tofu
  • Live, active culture yogurt 
  • Kombucha, a cultured drink made by fermenting black or green tea

Pro tip: When shopping for probiotic foods, look for labels that have “live and active cultures” written on them and go for refrigerated versions of fermented foods (shelf-stable versions are pasteurized, which doesn’t leave much of the intended benefit for you). 

On the other hand, Prebiotic foods are rich in dietary fiber and can be naturally found in fruits, veggies, whole grains, and legumes. 

Prebiotic-Rich Foods:

  • Slightly under-ripe bananas
  • Apples
  • Chicory root
  • Asparagus
  • Garlic, onions, and leeks
  • Jerusalem artichokes 
  • Dandelion greens

Can You Get Enough Prebiotics and Probiotics From Food Sources Alone? 

Food sources can be sufficient to pack you up with enough probiotics and prebiotics to make your microbiome thrive.  

However, probiotic and prebiotic foods need to be eaten regularly. The effects don’t work long-term, and you need to make a habit of it. 

If this is unmanageable for you, for whatever reason, supplements can be a convenient way to make sure you’re getting optimal amounts of both live bacteria and indigestible fibers. 

Where Do the Supplements Fit In, and Are They Worth It? 

Taking prebiotic or probiotic supplements can be a beneficial addition 

to maintain healthy intestinal microflora, aside from relying on food sources alone. 

And they’re worthwhile as long as you know how to find the right product. So, let’s eliminate the guesswork and find a good-quality probiotic supplement.

First things first, not all probiotic supplements are equal. Some strains are more effective than others and there are differences between types of probiotics. The best advice we can give you is to do your research before investing in any particular supplement. 

Did you know only 1-3% of commonly used probiotic strains survive the harsh acidic environment of your digestive and urinary tract? The whole point with probiotics is for them to reach the lower intestine, where they are most beneficial. That said, spore-producing probiotic strains have a nearly 100% survival rate in your intestines, giving you markedly higher treatment success rates. And the bonus? Spore-producing strains also produce the so-called natural bacteriocins, which can reduce harmful bacteria in your gut.

Next, taking your probiotic supplement with prebiotics is best. They work better together than taking either one of them as standalone probiotic or prebiotic supplements.

Having both on your side gives you better chances of repopulating your gut with healthy bacteria. This especially holds true after a round of antibiotic treatment or a bout of Candida infection. Or with more severe conditions such as Clostridium difficile, where putting all your eggs in one basket is particularly unwise. 

While probiotics will help you build a healthy population of beneficial intestinal microorganisms, prebiotics will create a favorable environment for these beneficial colonies to thrive—decreasing the chance of survival of pathogenic bacteria.

Look for Prebiotic and Probiotic Supplements You Can Count On

probiotic supplement with beneficial bacteria

Keeping your gut bacteria balanced is critical for many aspects of health. The basic idea around keeping this balance intact is to include prebiotics and probiotics in your diet (by stocking up on foods like live yogurts, fermented vegetables, cultured drinks, and fiber-rich plant foods). 

But you can also achieve this balance via supplements.

Prebiotics and probiotics can help with maldigestion, antibiotic side effects, weight gain, and digestive health conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease.  

That said, touch base with your healthcare provider to help you with your daily recommended fiber intake, or check out probiotic and prebiotic supplements in our online store

beneficial bacteria helps your digestive tract

Simply Nutrients is a doctor-owned US-based e-commerce store with a wide range of quality nutritional and wellness products. We take pride in our customer-centric approach, so feel free to contact our customer service center if you have questions we haven’t covered here. 

You can also check out the following articles for more topics related to gut health:









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Medically reviewed by Dr. Jamy Antoine, D.C. — by Chris Bowman — On March 30, 2023


Chris Bowman

Chris Bowman is the CEO and Co-Founder of and has over 15 years of experience in nutritional sciences and wellness. Simply Nutrients is a part of Dr. Jamy Antoine's Select Health Practice in Edina, Minnesota. Chris is passionate about helping people live healthier lives by using the best practices of nature, nutrition, and medicine.