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  • Writer's pictureJo Soria

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics: What's the Difference

Continuing our TRN spotlight on gut health, let’s dive into the details of two main characters in the gut health conversation: probiotics and prebiotics. If you want to rev up your digestive and overall wellness, join the TRN team to look at the benefits of—and differences between—these key elements.

fermented foods, probiotic and prebiotic foods, human health, healthy gut microbiome, gut bacteria, digestive health

Gut Health and Microbiome Basics

First, some quick context: each of our bodies is home to trillions of living microorganisms that make up what’s known as the microbiome. And just like any other complex ecosystem of organisms or microorganisms, there’s a delicate balance within the microbiome.

For the health of our internal systems, it’s critical that we have enough “good” or beneficial microbes to help regulate our immune systems, assist with digestion, and enhance brain health and function. When the microbiome becomes too inviting for harmful microbes and bacteria, we are more susceptible to disease, immunity issues, and other health risks.

Probiotics: The Beneficial Bacteria

So, is there a way to introduce more good bacteria to the ecosystem and tip the microbiome’s balancing act in our favor? With the help of probiotics, yes.

Think of probiotics as a positive influence on your gastrointestinal tract; when ingested into the microbiome, these beneficial bacteria and yeasts lend a helping hand to the other healthy microbes that already live in the body. And with safety in numbers, they can help keep some of the more hostile microbes at bay.

How to Boost Your Probiotic Intake

Probiotic products are available in a few different varieties, including over-the-counter dietary supplements and topical creams that can be applied to the skin. Medical experts generally agree, however, that the simplest yet most effective way to add more probiotics to the digestive system is to incorporate them into your diet by way of fermented foods and beverages, including:

  • Yogurt

  • Sourdough

  • Kombucha

  • Kimchi

  • Pickles

  • Olives

  • Sauerkraut

  • Raw cheese

  • Miso

Prebiotics: Gut Bacteria Fuel

Prebiotics, on the other hand, are not bacteria – they are carbohydrates that act as food for probiotics. Consuming prebiotics helps to increase the number of probiotics in your gut and improve probiotic function and the digestive tract.

Probiotic foods, healthy gut goods, probiotics and prebiotics

If you’re looking to add more prebiotics to your nutrition plan, some good sources include:

  • Whole grains

  • Green vegetables

  • Soybeans

  • Bananas

  • Onions

  • Garlic

  • Legumes

Other Benefits of Prebiotics

While probiotics and prebiotics are still the subject of much ongoing research related to their relationship to and effect on the microbiome, we do know that there are plenty of benefits associated with the consumption of prebiotics, including:

  • Helping to improve immune system function

  • Aiding anti-inflammatory response within the body

  • Regulating bowel movements

  • Stimulating the production of hormones needed for appetite and appetite suppression

Consume With Care

Incorporating probiotic-rich foods and prebiotics into your diet can be highly beneficial, but as always, be sure to talk with your healthcare provider before taking on a new nutrition or wellness routine. Prebiotics, in particular, can be a potent addition to the daily diet and should be approached with moderation.


“Don’t go overnight and start eating a ton of these,” says registered dietician Gail Cresci, PhD, RD. “When they start working and waking up your microbiota, it’ll start creating more gas, so you don’t want a reverse effect where you feel super bloated or gassy. This should be a gradual introduction into your diet.”


You may also want to avoid consuming prebiotics too late in the evening, as your gut microbes tend to be more active during the day.

How Probiotics and Prebiotics Work Together to Benefit Our Health

To sum it up, probiotics introduce good bacteria into the gut, while prebiotics nourishes those probiotics and promote their growth. And a healthy balance of gut bacteria is linked to numerous health benefits, including improved digestion and a more robust immune system.


If you’re looking to boost your overall digestive wellness, probiotics and prebiotics should ideally be woven into a balanced nutrition plan that includes plenty of whole and anti-inflammatory foods and some additional sources of fiber.


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