This Simple Graphic Explains the Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics

Probiotics vs Prebiotics Graphic

Two very popular health buzzwords unheard of of ten years ago are probiotics and prebiotics. Most of us have associated these two with benefits to our digestion, but we don’t really know much more than that. Fooducate is here to clear up the confusion once and for all.

The short version:

  • Probiotics are friendly microorganisms inhabiting our digestive tract that aid digestion and may confer additional health benefits. 
  • Prebiotics are non-living, non-digestible carbs that serve as food for Probiotics.

Now the details:

Probiotics are, for the most part, bacteria that reside in our intestinal tract. Other types of probiotics are yeast. Probiotics get into our intestines from foods we eat or supplements. There are many types of probiotics, and each one behaves a bit differently in our gut. Although the term “probiotics” is relatively new, we’ve been ingesting them for thousands of years. Any food that is cultured or fermented has probiotics: yp

Foods with probiotics include:

  • yogurt, kefir, and buttermilk
  • aged cheese such as cheddar, Gouda, or Parmesan
  • sauerkraut, kimchi and other pickled versions of veggies
  • sourdough bread
  • miso (fermented barley or soy or rice)
  • tempeh – fermented soy
  • kombucha – a fermented tea that is gaining in popularity in the US
  • beer, wine (yay!)

The health benefits of probiotics are potentially wide and varied, but scientists are only starting to understand the complex symbiosis between the gut, the bacteria, and the rest of our body. Some potential health benefits, aside from keeping us regular, include treatment of diarrhea, reduction of lactose intolerance, improved immune system, lower chances of colon cancer, and reduction of blood pressure and cholesterol.

By the way, when you are sick and take antibiotics, you’re killing off the germs that made you ill, but also the probiotics.

On to prebiotics. Unlike probitoics, these are not alive. Most prebiotics are some form of fiber. Our body does not digest fiber, but the bacteria in our gut, including the probiotics, digest the fiber. Feeding these helpful bacteria keeps them doing what they are supposed to do in order to help our health.

Foods with prebiotics include:

  • raw chicory root – the top source, with almost 60% fiber
  • raw Jerusalem artichoke
  • raw garlic, leeks, and onions
  • whole wheat
  • fruits and vegetables
  • legumes

Since each of us has different bacteria swimming around in her gut, the effects of the consumption of the same exact probiotics and prebiotics may be very different. Experiment with different foods and see what works for you. The best way to consume probiotics and prebiotics is via food, not supplements.

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  • Carol H

    While many of the foods listed above as containing probiotics are made with bacteria, they don’t actually contain living ones at the time of packaging; i.e., they are killed in the cooking, baking, etc. of the product, so they are no longer of any consequence to your health (cheeses, sourdough bread, sauerkraut, etc.). A product will say “contains live cultures” if live bacteria are still present.

    • Scott

      There are plenty of raw living bacteria packed sauerkrauts available
      I buy mine at my local farmers market.

    • michaelmousedisqus

      PROBIOTIC bacteria must be kept alive. They may be killed by heat, stomach acid or simply die with time, whereas PREbiotic’s aren’t affected by the same. So the live probiotics can die in your stomach acid.

  • Dr. D

    Amen, also many are so sugar-laden!

  • Alan Ng

    Since many of these supposedly probiotics-containing foods don’t actually contain live cultures and are sugar-laden, does that mean people should take probiotics supplements instead?

    • michaelmousedisqus

      eat whole foods. i.e. for example.