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What’s the Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

A variety of pro- and prebiotic foods like fresh vegetables and fermented products, laid out on a table.
Rimma Bondarenko/Shutterstock

Prebiotics and probiotics both have an important place in keeping your gut healthy. They are different things and have different purposes, but they work together to create a healthier digestive system. Here’s the lowdown.

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics help feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. Of the trillions of gut bacteria in each of our bodies, we have both good and bad stuff. The good bacteria help keep your digestive system running smoothly, and the bad cause all sorts of gastrointestinal issues. By taking prebiotics, you help the good bacteria do its job. Think of it as fertilizer for your biome garden, encouraging the good stuff to grow.

Prebiotics are found in plant fibers. They’re in fruits, grains, and vegetables, but you can also purchase them in supplement form. Some common foods containing prebiotics include:

  • Apples
  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Barley
  • Beans
  • Berries
  • Flaxseed
  • Garlic
  • Green vegetables
  • Leeks
  • Oats
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Seaweed
  • Soybeans
  • Tomatoes
  • Wheat

These foods, and others, all contain complex carbohydrates the human body doesn’t digest. Instead, as they flow through the digestive systems, they are eaten up by your gut bacteria.

If you don’t get a lot of these foods in your diet, and you’re having stomach and digestive troubles, a prebiotic supplement might help you feel better.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics add to the healthy bacteria in your gut. To keep with the garden analogy, they aren’t fertilizer that encourages the growth of positive gut bacteria, they are the positive gut bacteria. Adding them in is like planting additional plants in your gut biome garden.

Probiotics, whether you’re getting them from food or a supplement, contain live cultures. Not all probiotics are created equal—some include more strains of bacteria than others.

Probiotics generally come from fermented foods. Some of these include:

  • Acidophilus Milk
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh
  • Yogurt

Probiotics are most often gotten through supplements, for those who need them. They can help with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome.

Taking both prebiotics and probiotics will help ensure you’re getting more good bacteria in your gut and keeping that bacteria fed and happy. Talk to your doctor if you’ve been having stomach distress; they’ll be able to suggest the right strains or a healthier diet.

Yvonne Glasgow Yvonne Glasgow
Yvonne Glasgow is a professional writer with two decades of experience. She has written and edited for nutritionists, start-ups, dating companies, SEO firms, newspapers, board game companies, and more. Yvonne is a published poet and short story writer, and she is a life coach. Read Full Bio »

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