Quinoa versus rice: Which is a better choice for your diet?

While prebiotics and probiotics play different roles, both serve to give you a healthier gut. Your gut microbiome is a collection of bacteria in your stomach, intestines, and colon. Prebiotics and probiotics help balance this ecosystem for better digestion, immunity, and vitamin production, and are associated with reducing the risk of disease and inflammation.

Read on to learn the difference between prebiotics and probiotics.

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The Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics

Probiotics are microorganisms that help keep your gut healthy. Prebiotics are food for the probiotics living in your gut. You can get both through the food you eat or as supplements. While probiotic foods are naturally fermented, foods that contain prebiotics are often raw.

What Is a Prebiotic?

Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that feed the good bacteria in your gut and help boost the health benefits of probiotics. For example, taking prebiotics can help improve calcium absorption in the body. Foods containing prebiotics include:

  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Quinoa
  • Wheat
  • Onions
  • Bananas
  • Berries
  • Flax
  • Garlic
  • Honey
  • Agave
  • Leeks
  • Yams
  • Artichokes
  • Beans

Other foods contain prebiotics including raw asparagus, raw carrots, raw garlic, raw jicama, raw or cooked onions, under-ripe bananas, apple cider vinegar, cinnamon, turmeric, and raw honey. (Find out what else honey can do for your health.)

A diet rich in plant-based foods, starches, and soluble and insoluble fibers provides most of the prebiotics you need. If you don’t regularly consume probiotic-rich foods or take probiotic supplements, prebiotic supplements provide little to no benefit.

What Is a Probiotic?

Probiotics contain live organisms which add to the good bacteria population in your gut and help create a healthy environment.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, probiotics can help prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea and symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, hay fever, and eczema. They also help reduce colic in infants, lower cholesterol, and improve many other conditions. Find out more about probiotic safety.

Consuming fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut, which contain probiotics, can boost your gut health. If you choose to take a probiotic supplement, look for ones that contain 10 to 15 billion CFUs, or colony-forming units.

Try to work up to a supplement that contains 50 to 200 billion CFUs and different types of probiotic bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, Bifidobacter, and others, which you can read more about here. Also, look for extended-release capsules which can protect the live cultures from your stomach acid until they reach your gut.

Improving Health with Probiotics

Prebiotics and probiotics are not interchangeable: you should be getting both regularly. They help populate and multiply the good bacteria in your gut and improve your health in many ways. Remember, don’t consume a prebiotic without taking a probiotic. The two are best when consumed together, working hand in hand to help boost your immunity and gut health.


About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.