What’s the Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

October 7, 2021by Health Desk

“You are what you eat,” or more accurately, “you are what you feed your microbiome.”

Good and Bad Bacteria

The microbiome is the micro-ecosystem of trillions of organisms (microbiota) in your gut and every surface of your body. It includes bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites. Each person has a unique network of microbiota.The organisms that exist in the microbiome consist of two types – helpful and potentially harmful. Most are helpful and symbiotic, meaning having a mutually beneficial relationship for the human body and the organisms. A small number of organisms promote disease. In a healthy body, both types of organisms (symbiotic and ones causing disease) coexist peacefully without problems. Illnesses, medications such as antibiotics, and certain diets can disrupt this peaceful existence. The key to being healthier is to nourish the balance between both types of bacteria in the gut. The gut mostly consists of bacteria.

In chronic bowel conditions, such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), it is now evident that microbial factors play key roles in causing the conditions. The gut microbiome is altered.

The benefits of microbiota in the gut are:

  • Breaking down toxic food components
  • Synthesizing certain vitamins and amino acids – Vitamin K and the B vitamins
  • Breaking down complex carbohydrates
  • Producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which play a role in:
    • Muscle function
    • Prevention of cancer, bowel disorders and chronic diseases
    • Studies have demonstrated the benefits of SCFA in treating Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, and antibiotic-associated diarrhea
Healthy Food


You must have heard the saying, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Fruits and other plant-based foods are prebiotics, which are required to maintain good health. Prebiotics help grow the healthy bacteria that already exists in your gut. On the other hand, Probiotics contain live organisms that are added to the population of healthy microbes in your gut. Without prebiotics, there can be no probiotics in the gut, since probiotics feed on prebiotics.

Prebiotics are foods containing complex carbohydrates and specialized plant fibers found in many fruits and vegetables. Common prebiotic foods include garlic, onion, artichoke, asparagus, banana, apple, barley, oat, cocoa, flaxseed, wheat bran and jicama root.

Complex carbohydrates, such as fiber, are not completely digested in the body. Instead, they become food for organisms in the gut. In addition, they can improve digestive problems, prevent overeating, and help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Incorporate good amounts of prebiotics in your diet daily. Make sure you do not eat a lot of fiber too quickly, as it may cause gas and bloating. Gradually increase the amount of fiber until your body is used to it.


Probiotics are foods or supplements containing live organisms. Probiotics help in:

  • Replenishing normal bacteria in the gut
  • Suppressing the growth of bugs that are potentially harmful
  • Improving the gut-barrier function
  • Modulating the immune system by suppressing proinflammatory substances
  • Modulating pain perception
Dosa and Idli

The most well-known probiotic food is yogurt. Bacteria and yeast fermented foods and beverages are sources of probiotics. These include yogurt, kefir, kimchi (Korean fermented cabbage), kombucha (fermented drink), sauerkraut, miso, pickles, dosa (Indian fermented white lentil and rice pancakes), idli (Indian fermented white lentil and rice dumplings), lassi (Indian buttermilk), traditional buttermilk, and certain types of cheese, such as gouda, mozzarella and cheddar.

Probiotic supplements also contain live organisms. Talk to your doctor before taking a probiotic supplement. If you have a health condition, you will need to select a probiotic supplement that is compatible with your condition.

Introduce a variety of probiotic and prebiotic plant-based foods in your diet, and supercharge your gut health. Whether in a smoothie with berries and bananas or with a bowl of oats for breakfast, some amount every day is good for a healthier you.

The majority of the diseases begin in the digestive tract when “good” bacteria are no more able to control “bad” bacteria.

– Elie Metchnikoff, Father of Probiotics & Nobel Laureate