What is the Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

By: Patricia Garcia Guillen, DTR, CSUN Dietetic Intern Cohort 2021-2022 

You’re probably aware of all about the hype surrounding prebiotics and probiotics. However, have you ever wondered what are they exactly? How can you consume more of them? And, do you have to break the bank to make them a part of your diet?   

Probiotics are living organisms, also known as “good bacteria”, that can improve one’s health by promoting bacterial growth in the microbiome. Foods and beverages produced through controlled bacterial growth are known as fermented foods.1 Probiotics are naturally found in fermented dairy foods such as yogurt, kefir, and aged cheeses; non-dairy fermented foods like kombucha, miso, tempeh, and sauerkraut; and as dietary supplements.2 Research has shown that consuming probiotic-rich foods can not only help maintain a healthy gut, but it may also help prevent infections caused by harmful bacteria, reduce cholesterol levels, strengthen the immune system, and reduce inflammation, which can be beneficial in the treatment of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).3 Next time you are at the grocery store in your search for probiotics, you can look for the key words “live and active cultures” to be certain you are helping keep the integrity of your microbiome.  

Prebiotics are fructooligosaccharides, like galacto-oligosaccharides and inulin, which are nondigestible carbohydrates, or fiber, found in fruits and vegetables.2 Prebiotics can be found in food sources such as bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, and whole grains such as whole-wheat bread, pastas, oatmeal, and brown rice.2 Prebiotics cannot be digested. However, when these foods are consumed, they are fermented in the large intestine and have been noted to have health benefits.2 The fermentation allows the fiber components found in prebiotics like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains to be broken down in the gut in order to produce stool bulk. When probiotics and prebiotics are combined, a dynamic duo is created, and they are called synbiotics. The consumption of probiotics and prebiotics has been effective in the treatment of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and diseases of the liver.4 Research has shown that the fermentation process of prebiotics is linked to the promotion of the multiplication of beneficial gut bacteria obtained from probiotics.5 

It is important to mention that although probiotics and prebiotics are easily accessible as over-the-counter dietary supplements, they do not need approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be marketed. Therefore, food sources can be a safer and cheaper way to consume these nutrients. There is no need to break the bank by purchasing expensive dietary supplements or foods to incorporate more synbiotics into your diet. Combining prebiotics and probiotic sources as part of your daily routine can be simple and inexpensive! You can try these simple and delicious recipes as a snack or as part of a balanced breakfast for mornings on-the-go.  

Yogurt n’ Berries Bowls 

Author: Patricia Garcia Guillen 

Inspired by: Tyler Florence6 

Servings: 2 


  • 2 cups (16 oz) of plain nonfat yogurt 
  • 1 cup of fresh blueberries and raspberries 
  • 1 ½ tbsp of sliced toasted almonds  
  • A drizzle of honey 

Directions: Combine the yogurt and blueberries in a medium size container. Divide the mixture evenly into two small bowls. Sprinkle the sliced almonds on top of each bowl, drizzle some honey, and enjoy! 

Very Berry Kefir Smoothie 

Author: Patricia Garcia Guillen 

Inspired by: Briana Killen7 

Servings: 1 


  • 1 ½ cups of frozen mixed berries  
  • 1 cup plain kefir 
  • ½ medium banana 
  • 2 teaspoons nut butter of choice 
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract 

Directions: Combine berries, kefir, nut butter, and vanilla in a blender. Blend until smooth. Enjoy! 


  1. Dimidi E, Cox SR, Rossi M, Whelan K. Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1806. Published 2019 Aug 5. doi:10.3390/nu11081806 
  1. Klemm, S. Prebiotics and Probiotics: Creating a Healthier You. EatRight. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/prebiotics-and-probiotics-creating-a-healthier-you. Published June 9, 2020. 
  1. Şahin M. The role of probiotics in COVID-19 treatment: Gut microbiota can help physicians in the outbreak. Turk J Gastroenterol. 2020;31(10):724-725. doi:10.5152/tjg.2020.20338  
  1. Markowiak P, Śliżewska K. Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients. 2017; 9(9):1021. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu9091021 
  1. Slavin J. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits. Nutrients. 2013; 5(4):1417-1435. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu5041417 
  1. Florence, T. Yogurt Berry Parfait. Food Network. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/yogurt-berry-parfait-recipe-1915894 
  1. Killen, B. Berry Kefir Smoothie. Eating Well. https://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/257793/berry-kefir-smoothie/. Published May/June 2017. 

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