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Prebiotic vs. Probiotic: What's the Difference?

If you want to improve digestive health, spur weight loss, or support your immune system, understanding the differences between prebiotic vs. probiotic supplements and foods is vital.
foods with prebiotics and probiotics

Article at a Glance

  • Probiotics are foods that contain specific types of live bacteria that increase the gut flora population.
  • Prebiotics are food for your healthy gut bacteria in the form of plant fibers found in fruits and vegetables that the body can't digest. 
  • There are many health benefits to both prebiotics and probiotics.
  • 4 Prebiotic Benefits and 19 prebiotic-rich foods to boost our diet.

Probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods are at the top of many health-conscious shopping lists for a good reason! Probiotics offer a myriad of health benefits by adding friendly bacteria to your gut. But the increased buzz around prebiotics and their health benefits has led to the question: What is the difference between a prebiotic and a probiotic, and which is more important? The truth is, both work synergistically and both are important for improved health. If you want to improve digestive health, spur weight loss, or support your immune system, understanding the differences between prebiotic vs. probiotic supplements and foods is vital.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are foods that contain specific types of live bacteria that increase the gut flora population – the community of healthy microorganisms (bacteria) that live in your digestive tract. These bacteria feed on fermenting prebiotics to grow, reproduce, and thrive, keeping us healthy.

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are food for your healthy gut bacteria in the form of plant fibers found in fruits and vegetables that the body can't digest. When prebiotic fiber arrives in the small intestine, it begins to ferment, stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria including lactobacilli and bifidobacteria.

Foods including apples, berries, broccoli, whole grains, bananas, artichokes, carrots, and asparagus are all tremendous prebiotic foods high in complex carbohydrates and prebiotic fiber. If you are on a carb-restricted diet, you may be creating a deficit of prebiotics in your digestive system. Pay attention to your gut health, and if you notice a change in your immune system or your bowel habits, you may want to add prebiotic supplements or foods to your daily regimen.

How Does a Prebiotic Work?

Since prebiotics can't be digested, they start to ferment in the gut. The fermentation process increases the production of healthy bacterial growth in the colon, but the health benefits don't stop there. The fermented prebiotic fibers then morph into short-chain fatty acids which may protect against certain diseases including colon cancer, according to Columbia University Irving Medical Center. [1]

Prebiotic Side Effects

Prebiotic side effects are rare. If you don't regularly consume prebiotics, it is wise to increase consumption slowly to prevent gas and bloating. However, if you have irritable bowel syndrome, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), or you are sensitive to FODMAPs, prebiotics may worsen symptoms and cause gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. 

Prebiotic vs. Probiotic

Both prebiotics and probiotics are necessary for optimal gut health, but at their core, they are very different compounds. Let's take a look at the major differences.

What Are the Main Differences Between a Prebiotic and a Probiotic?

Here are the critical differences:

  • Prebiotics are a type of fiber that feeds healthy bacteria in the gut.
  • Probiotics are live bacteria, like those found in milk, yogurt, and active culture cheeses.
  • Prebiotics are resistant to heat and stomach acid.
  • Probiotics are sensitive to heat and stomach acid.
  • Prebiotics may cause digestive distress if added too quickly or for those with gastrointestinal disease.
  • Probiotics in very high doses may cause bloating, increase thirst, trigger a headache, and rarely they may cause an infection in people with a suppressed immune system. [2][3]


4 Prebiotic Benefits

In addition to improving gut health, prebiotic benefits include:

  1. Reduced Inflammation- Chronic inflammation is linked to a variety of infectious diseases, cancers, heart disease, and autoimmune disorders. [4] In a clinical study published in the journal Medical Microbiology and Immunology, researchers identify how prebiotics support the immune system and reduce inflammation by decreasing proinflammatory cytokines and increasing anti-inflammatory cytokines. [5]
  2. Improved Immune Function- In a clinical study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, researchers identify that when prebiotics spur bacterial growth in the colon, the ecosystem of the gut changes improving immune health. The researchers refer to this as the "prebiotic effect," which they indicate reduces the risk of infections and promotes overall wellness. [6]
  3. Lowered Risk of Cardiovascular Disease- Eating more prebiotic foods introduces more healthy types of fiber into your diet, which may help to reduce cholesterol levels. Recently, researchers from Italy linked gut health and cardiovascular disease in a clinical study. The study found that diet, prebiotics, probiotics, and gut microbe transplantation may be effective at preventing cardiovascular disease. [7]
  4. Stimulate Weight Loss- Both soluble fiber and insoluble fiber are associated with lower body weight. Researchers have identified prebiotics as a way to trigger weight loss and reduce hunger through satiety and a reduction in the hormone ghrelin. [8]


19 Prebiotic Foods to Boost Your Diet

Are you ready to add prebiotic-rich foods to your diet? Here are 19 foods to try:


  • Bananas
  • Apples
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit


  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Broccoli
  • Dandelion greens
  • Raw chicory root
  • Onions (all types)
  • Asparagus
  • Artichokes
  • Sweet potatoes
  • White potatoes


  • Lentils
  • Chickpeas
  • Red kidney beans

Whole Grains

  • Barley
  • Raw oats
  • Whole wheat


Multivitamins Made of Prebiotics and Probiotics: Healthycell's Bioactive Multi and AM/PM

Bioactive Multi is a broad-spectrum multivitamin that delivers essential vitamins and minerals through a prebiotic MICROGEL for maximum absorption. The gel in the multivitamin is made of prebiotics, including acacia gum, citrus pectin, and oat beta glucan.

Vegan Essentials is the easiest one-a-day way to be a healthy vegan. It's the only vegan multivitamin with 30+ vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients essential for plant-based diets. Also designed for ultra-rapid absorption is also made with prebiotic MICROGEL for maximum absorption.

Healthycell Pro AM/PM provides 90+ vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and GI support with probiotics and enzymes to enhance digestion and maximize absorption. It's unique 24-hour nutrition (AM and PM formulas) provide the right nutrients at the right times.


Key Takeaways: Prebiotic vs. Probiotic

  • Both prebiotics and probiotics serve gut health.
  • Prebiotics are plant fibers that naturally ferment in the colon, acting as food for beneficial or "good" bacteria.
  • Probiotic-rich foods include live culture dairy products like yogurt or milk
  • Consuming prebiotic foods and prebiotic supplements may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, improve the immune system, reduce inflammation, and spur weight loss.


[2]  LeDoux, David, Vincent J. LaBombardi, and Dennis Karter. "Lactobacillus acidophilus bacteraemia after use of a probiotic in a patient with AIDS and Hodgkin's disease." International Journal of STD & AIDS 17.4 (2006): 280-282.

[3] Martin VT, Vij B. "Diet and headache: Part 1." Headache. 56.9 (2016): 1543-1552.

[4] Hunter, P. "The inflammation theory of disease: The growing realization that chronic inflammation is crucial in many diseases opens new avenues for treatment." EMBO Reports 13.11 (2012): 968-970.

[5] Shokryazdan P, et al. "Effects of prebiotics on immune system and cytokine expression." Medical Microbiology and Immunology 206.1 (2017): 1-9.

[6] Roberfroid M, et al. "Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits." British Journal of Nutrition 104 (2010) S1-63.

[7] Lippi G et al. "The intriguing link between the intestinal microbiota and cardiovascular disease." Seminars in Thrombosis and Hemostasis 43.6 (2017): 609-613.

[8] Parnell JA, Reimer RA. "Prebiotic fibres dose-dependently increase satiety hormones and alter Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes in lean and obese JCR:LA-cp rats." British Journal of Nutrition 107.4 (2012): 601-13. 

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