Probiotics vs. Prebiotics: What’s the Difference?

Probiotics vs PrebioticsIf you’re confused about probiotics and prebiotics, you’re not alone.

We only have one vowel to differentiate the pair, so that doesn’t help us much, either.

You may be familiar with probiotics and associate them with digestive health, which is correct.

But what’s all this recent business about prebiotics and why are they important?

If you’re confused about the differences between these health buzzwords, you’re in luck.

Let me break it down simply with a few definitions:

Probiotics:  Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that actively live in our digestive tracts and support overall digestion and potentially offer many other health benefits.

Prebiotics:  Prebiotics are non-living, non-digestible food for the probiotics to “eat”.

Now that we have the basics of what each are, let’s dive a little deeper into their special characteristics…


Probiotics are living, varying types microorganisms that reside in our intestinal tracts, with yeast being another type of probiotic.

A main job of theirs is to balance out the bacteria levels in the body, which can easily be overtaken by harmful bacteria.

When you take antibiotics, you’re killing off bad bacteria which is causing the illness but also the friendly probiotics, as well.

We get these helpful probiotics into our system by the foods we eat and by taking supplements.

Probiotics and their health benefits have been hot topics over the last few years.

However, probiotics aren’t actually new.  We have been ingesting probiotics for thousands of years in the form of fermented and cultured foods.

Some examples of foods that contain probiotics are:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kombucha
  • Aged cheese (Cheddar, Gouda, or Parmesan)
  • Miso
  • Sourdough Bread

Probiotics can also be taken orally in supplement form.

For suggestions on beneficial probiotics to take, check out our list of the 10 best probiotics on the market.

Next up is prebiotics…


Prebiotics are non-living and non-digestible carbohydrates.

These special carbohydrates, usually in the form of fiber, act as a food source for probiotics.

Our bodies don’t actually digest fiber but probiotics and other bacteria do in the form of fermentation.

Prebiotics are vital in the mix because they stimulate the activity and growth of healthy bacteria in the system.

When probiotics and prebiotics are in conjunction, they form a symbiotic relationship and are able to thrive.

A few great examples of these are fermented dairy products like kefir and yogurt because they contain the live bacteria and the necessary fuel for it.

Prebiotics can be found in foods such as:

  • Raw chicory root
  • Whole wheat
  • Bananas
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Asparagus
  • Legumes
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Cabbage
  • Leeks
  • Apples

There are also different types of prebiotics, as there are with probiotics.

Common types of prebiotics are:

  • Inulin
  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
  • Galactooligosaccharides (GOS)
  • Lactulose
  • Lafinose

Final Thoughts

Even though prebioics and probiotics sound dauntingly similar, we now know that they each play different roles in the digestive system.

Probiotics are the actual living, friendly bacteria that cruise around our digestive tract and help balance out our bacteria levels.

Prebiotics are the non-living carbohydrates that feed the probiotics in order for them to grow and continue doing their job.

With both of these players working together, they can be a powerhouse for the health of our digestive tracts and overall wellbeing!

As a final thought, if you’re going to supplement with one of these, be sure to supplement with the other as well.

That can make all the difference in the world.

For an updated list of our top 10 probiotic supplements, many of which also have prebiotics, click here.

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About the Author

About the Author: Kate Watson is the Lead Researcher and Founder of Kate started this site after successfully using probiotics to treat some digestive issues she'd had since childhood. In her free time Kate loves nothing more than a good book (and a good glass of wine).