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Probiotics and Prebiotics: Two Different Players on the Same Team

Picture of hands holding animated gut representing gut health, healthy microbiome

Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, also referred to as the “gut,” is the pathway where food enters the body and expels it as waste. It is a group of organs that includes the mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder, small intestine, large intestine (or colon), and rectum.

Your gut is home to trillions of bacteria, which is part of what scientists call your gut microbiome. These gut bacteria can benefit from consuming both probiotics and prebiotics.


Probiotics are live beneficial microorganisms that reside in your gut. They are a combination of bacteria and/or yeast whose main job is to maintain the natural balance of microorganisms in your body.

For example, if you get sick, the bad bacteria in your body will be above the normal range. Probiotics will restore the balance by fighting off the bad bacteria to try and make you feel better.

These good bacteria also have other roles in the body such as supporting the immune system by helping to control inflammation and aiding your body in digestion.

You can increase the number of good bacteria in your body through certain food that also contain similar good bacteria. These probiotic foods can have beneficial effects to your gut microbiome, but they are not for everyone. Consult with a health professional to see if probiotic foods should be part of your diet.

Food Sources of Probiotics

Sources of probiotics that you can eat are called fermented foods. These foods contain live bacteria, oftentimes called cultures or starters, which give fermented foods a distinctive tart and sour flavor. Here are some fermented foods you can try:

  • Kimchi – a spicy, sour, and sweet fermented Napa cabbage dish

  • Sauerkraut – a simple fermented green cabbage dish with salt and spices like caraway seeds

  • Yogurt – a fermented dairy product with a pudding-like consistency and tangy taste

  • Miso – a fermented paste made from soybeans with an earthy salty taste

  • Tempeh – a savory cake-like food made from soybeans with a nutty texture

  • Kefir – a fermented yogurt-like drink made with milk

  • Kombucha – a sweet and sour fizzy fermented drink made with tea, sugar, and a starter


Prebiotics are certain types of fiber that feed the good bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. Essentially, they are food for probiotics.

Our digestive system cannot break down prebiotics, but the good bacteria in our gut microbiome can. Once the prebiotics reach a certain part of the colon, the probiotics break down the prebiotics to use as a source of nutrition which help them thrive.

Proper gut health begins with prebiotics, many of which come from delicious plant-based foods commonly found at your local grocery store or farmer’s market.

Food Sources of Prebiotics

Here are some good food sources of prebiotics to include in your diet and help boost friendly gut bacteria:

  • Garlic

  • Onions

  • Bananas

  • Asparagus

  • Leeks

  • Barley

  • Oats

  • Apples

  • Cocoa

  • Flaxseeds

  • Jicama

  • Seaweed


You can also get probiotics and prebiotics through supplementation, but it is important to visit your healthcare provider before starting any kind of supplement. There are probiotic supplements, prebiotic supplements, and synbiotic supplements, which combine both probiotics and prebiotics together in one supplement.

Bottom Line

Probiotics are the friendly bacteria that live in our gut. Prebiotics are the fibers that fuel probiotics.

They are two different players on the same team. Your body has the natural ability to keep your gut microbiome in balance, but needs the help of a nourishing diet.

Consuming a variety of whole foods that includes prebiotic foods and probiotic foods will give your gut microbiome the edge it needs to be on that winning side.

Learn more about healthy lifestyle habits and other wellness programs offered by Wellness Workdays.

Written by: JC Alhambra, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern



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