Prebiotics vs Probiotics: What’s the Difference?

Do you want your gut to be happy and healthy? Then you can't get around probiotics and prebiotics. But what are they, and how do they differ? We explain why you need both, and recommend the best foods to eat.

Rebecca Höfer Mar 10, 2022
Prebiotics vs Probiotics

A healthy gut needs the right bacteria

The gut, like the rest of your body, is covered with microscopic organisms: bacteria. These bacteria form an ecosystem, the gut microbiome, and play a major role in your health. After all, the healthier the microbiome, the better you feel.

The key to a healthy microbiome is to maintain the balance between the nearly 1,000 different species of bacteria in your gut. There are two ways to improve this balance: You can either help your own bacteria grow by providing them with the right food (prebiotics) or add live, friendly bacteria to your diet (probiotics).

Prebiotics: food for healthy gut bacteria

Prebiotics are foods that are high in fibre and therefore promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. Many fruits and vegetables contain prebiotics, especially those with complex carbohydrates such as dietary fibre and resistant starch. These carbohydrates cannot be broken down by human cells, but are only converted through biomechanical processes involving bacteria.

The following high-fibre foods belong to your gut bacteria’s favourites: Legumes, such as beans and peas, oats, bananas, berries, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, garlic, leeks, onions.

Prebiotics are high-fibre foods that...

  • help healthy bacteria grow
  • support digestion
  • promote healthy/normal bowel movements

Probiotics: the "good" bacteria

Probiotics are live, healthy strains of bacteria that naturally reside in your gut (e.g. bifidobacteria) and help maintain the balance of your gut microbiome.

Like prebiotics, probiotics can be naturally found in foods. The best known probiotic food is yoghurt. The bacteria used to ferment the milk remain in the final product – and make their way to your gut.

Other examples of probiotic foods are: Sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha tea, tempeh, kefir (dairy and non-dairy), pickles (unpasteurised), pickled vegetables (unpasteurised).

Some of these foods, like kefir and sauerkraut, are even synbiotic, meaning they are both, probiotic and prebiotic!

Probiotics are healthy living bacteria, that... 

  • fight off bad bacteria
  • promote the growth of immune cells
  • keep the gut microbiome in balance

To keep the healthy bacteria alive, it is important to support the intake of probiotics with prebiotics.