Prebiotics vs. Probiotics: Everything You Need to Know

You have probably heard of probiotics and may have heard of prebiotics, but do you actually know what they are and what they do? Nutrition research has allowed us to find functional components of foods that have benefits to our health and wellbeing, and prebiotics and probiotics are two examples of this — specifically regarding their role in maintaining gut health. Nutrition findings on prebiotics and probiotics are changing daily, but there are some concrete facts we know. Here we are going to explore what they are and their role in our health along with other food sources you can incorporate into your diet today.


What are they and what do they do?

Prebiotics are non-digestible fiber compounds or sources of carbohydrates that feed healthy gut bacteria and help them grow. Just like we get energy from the food we eat, prebiotics give energy to the bacteria in our gut to grow and thrive too. Prebiotics help probiotics do their job (more to come on that) and be able to do it successfully. Due to being mostly fiber and indigestible carbohydrate, prebiotics bypass digestion and get fermented in the colon by the microbiome. This allows for the healthy bacteria to proliferate. The most common type of prebiotics is oligosaccharides and they are abundant in many plant-based foods.

How do you incorporate them into your diet?

There are supplement forms of prebiotics, but we recommend going toward whole food sources of them first. Common foods that are high in prebiotics include: onions, leeks, garlic, legumes, asparagus, artichokes and whole grains.


What are they and what do they do?

Just like we mentioned earlier, probiotics are bacteria that grow in the gut that help support a healthy microbiome. They are “good” bacteria and they are found naturally in your gut. The “live cultures” help repopulate or change intestinal bacteria to balance the gut flora. This functional relationship helps boost immunity and overall health. For example, probiotics have been seen to help IBD (irritable bowel syndrome), acne and even hormone regulation.

How do you incorporate them into your diet?

A good start to getting more probiotics in your diet is looking to fermented food. Yogurt, non-dairy yogurt, sauerkraut, miso and tempeh are all source of probiotics that you can add to your diet. For maximum benefit, we recommend pairing foods that have prebiotics with probiotic-rich foods.

Benefits of both

  • They decrease IBS/IBD symptoms such as bloating, gas and diarrhea.
  • They improve sleep and help you reduce stress.
  • They regulate hunger hormones.
  • They boost weight loss.
  • They decrease the risk of depression.

That leaves us with one common recommendation. You cannot promote a healthy microbiome without prebiotics and probiotics synergistically working together. Prebiotics provide the food that is the fuel for the probiotics, and the probiotics thrive and help promote wellbeing. Together they synergistically work to help you thrive and live well. Next time you are at the grocery store, buy some of these amazing functional foods and pair them together for optimal results.

Gabriella is a registered dietitian living in the San Francisco Bay Area. She currently works in corporate wellness as a dietitian and overall wellness coach. She also runs a food blog called Macrobalanced, where she shows people that healthy and balanced eating can be interesting and tasty! She enjoys all things fitness from lifting heavy weights in the gym to hitting the barre. Nothing is off limits as long as sweat is involved. When she is not cooking or sweating, she is playing with her dog Maui, a lively German Shepherd. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook.