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Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

Updated: Apr 16, 2020

While PREBIOTICS and PROBIOTICS sound similar, they are very different and have different roles in the digestive system (or gut).

  • PREBIOTIC FIBRE is a non-digestible part of foods like bananas, oats, onions and garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, the skin of apples, pulses, seeds, beans, and many others. Prebiotic fiber goes through the small intestine undigested and is fermented when it reaches the large colon.

This fermentation process feeds beneficial bacteria colonies (including probiotic bacteria) and helps to increase the number of desirable bacteria in our digestive systems (also called the gut) that are associated with better health and reduced disease risk.

  • PROBIOTICS are live beneficial bacteria that are naturally created by the process of fermentation in foods like yogurt, milk kefir, water kefir, sauerkraut, miso soup, kimchi, and others.

Probiotics are also available in pill form and as an added ingredient in products like yogurt and health drinks such as Tibico products.

Kefir, a water based and milk drink that has been fermented using kefir grains, is an especially potent source of probiotics. According to Jeannette Hyde, a nutritional therapist, and high-profile advocate for kefir, “it contains lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in high doses, and also helps diversity too – more than 50 different types of bacteria can

be found in kefir. When you drink kefir these bacteria travel through the digestive tract to colonise the colon.”

While many types of bacteria are classified as probiotics, most come from two groups: [Laurence 2018]

  • Lactobacillus – the most common probiotic found in fermented foods. Tibico Kefir Water may be especially helpful with diarrhoea and may help with people who can’t digest milk sugar (lactose).

  • Bifidobacterium – also found in fermented foods. May ease symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and related conditions. Naturally present in the large intestine, bifidobacteria fight harmful bacteria in the intestines, prevent constipation and give the immune system a boost. Furthermore, evidence indicates that bifidobacteria help reduce intestinal concentrations of certain carcinogenic enzymes.

A helpful metaphor to understand the difference between a prebiotic and a probiotic may be a garden. You can add seeds—the probiotic bacteria—while the prebiotic fibre is the water and fertilizer that helps the seeds to grow and flourish.

Benefits of PROBIOTICS

The beneficial effects of probiotics have been widely demonstrated. [Toscana 2016] Health professionals often recommend probiotics to patients on antibiotics in an attempt to repopulate the colon with desirable bacteria after the course of antibiotics has wiped out both beneficial and undesirable bacteria. [Hyman 2016]

Some find taking probiotics can combat gastrointestinal side effects of the medication and reduce the bacterial growth leading to yeast infections.

Since each body is different, it is necessary to determine which probiotics will be helpful to one’s own system. [Laurence 2018] In addition, it is important to make sure the bacteria in probiotics are alive. Probiotic bacteria are fragile and can easily be killed by stomach acid, time, and heat so taking a volume drink (250 ml plus) that will flood the stomach and pass quickly to the Gut very much helps. In contrast, the market is flooded with small volume probiotic drinks where the beneficial bacteria are just killed in the stomach in minutes.

Probiotics are known to help with:

Better Regularity

Improved Immune Functions

Vitamin Production

Better Energy

Less Leaky Gut

More Calcium Absorption

Improved Bone Density

Less Inflammation

Less Appetite

Weight Loss

And many more....

“The biggest influence you can have on the state of your gut lining, and a healthy microbiome, is your diet—which you control.” — Jeannette Hyde, Nutritional Therapist BSc., a leading nutritional therapist, regular BBC commentator, and author of The Gut Makeover and The Gut Makeover Recipe Book.

Benefits of PREBIOTICS

Researchers have found that prebiotics are helpful in increasing the helpful bacteria already in the gut that reduce disease risk and improve general wellbeing. [Florowska 2016] Prebiotic fibre is not as fragile as probiotic bacteria because it is not affected by heat, stomach acid, or time. Nor does the fermentation process differ depending on the individual.

Scientific literature indicates that increasing prebiotic fibre intake supports immunity, digestive health, bone density, regularity, weight management, and brain health.

Which foods help me to boost PREBIOTICS and PROBIOTICS in my diet?

As discussed earlier, fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, and yogurt are rich sources of probiotic bacteria that go directly to populate the colon.

By boosting your total daily fibre consumption, you will also boost the prebiotic fibre you ingest to feed probiotic and other desirable strains of bacteria in the gut for improved health and wellbeing. [Pandey 2015]

Many high fibre foods are also high in prebiotic fibre. The following chart includes a sample of foods high in total fibre—and prebiotic fibre.

When is the best time to take Prebiotics and Probiotics?

The best time to take prebiotics and probiotics is regularly. Your gut microbiome will be grateful!


First published on April 22, 2014 and edited with updated content and references on March 15, 2018.


Florowska A, K Krygier, T Florowski, and E Dłużewska. 2016. “Prebiotics as functional food ingredients preventing diet-related diseases.” Food & function 7(5):2147-55.

Hyman, Mark MD. 2016. “Do Probiotics Really Work?” blog:

Kechagia, Maria Kechagia, Dimitrios Basoulis, Stavroula Konstantopoulou, Dimitra Dimitriadi, Konstantina Gyftopoulou, Nikoletta Skarmoutsou, and Eleni Maria Fakiri. 2013. “Health Benefits of Probiotics: A Review.” ISRN Nutr. 481651. Published online 2013 Jan 2. doi: 10.5402/2013/481651

Laurence, Emily. 2018. “Which probiotic is right for you? These are the exact bacteria strains to look for.” Well + Good. February 13, 2018.

Pandey, Kavita R, Suresh R. Naik, and Babu V. Vakil. 2015. “Probiotics, prebiotics and synbiotics- a review.” Journal of Food Science and Technology. Dec; 52(12): 7577–7587. Published online 2015 Jul 22. doi: 10.1007/s13197-015-1921-1 PMCID: PMC4648921

Thomas, DW, and F Greer. 2010. “Probiotics and prebiotics in pediatrics.” Pediatrics Dec 1;126(6):1217-31.

Toscano M, R De Grandi, L Pastorelli, M Vecchi, L Drago. 2017. “A consumer’s guide for probiotics: 10 golden rules for a correct use.” Digestive and Liver Disease 49 (November): 1177-1184. doi: 10.1016/j.dld.2017.07.011. Epub 2017 Aug 1.

Verspreet J, B Damen, WF Broekaert, K Verbeke, JA Delcour, CM Courtin. 2016. “A critical look at prebiotics within the dietary fiber concept.” Annual review of food science and technology Feb 28 (7):167-90.

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