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Probiotics versus Prebiotics, explained

Prebiotics and probiotics both play a role in the maintenance of a happy gut, but do you know the difference? Here is a handy guide to how each works in the body, where to get them from and why they are important for your inner health.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are foods or supplements that contain live beneficial bacteria. When these types of bacteria are consumed, they may help to restore healthy gut flora balance and support the smooth daily operations of the body. Having a diverse and balanced gut microbiome has numerous benefits from protecting against invading pathogens and maintaining immune function to supporting digestive health and helping extract nutrients from food.1

Where can I get probiotics from?

There are a couple of ways to get more beneficial bacteria in your gut – fermented foods and dietary supplements. Fermented foods have traditionally been used in different cultures around the world, where fermentation was predominantly used to increase shelf life.  Foods that are fermented go through a process of lactofermentation, whereby natural bacteria feed on the sugar and starch in food creating lactic acid. These bacteria may be naturally present in the raw food or added via a starter culture.2 The fermentation process creates an environment that not only preserves the food but provides various species of good bacteria (probiotics) and other important nutrients.

Some probiotic-rich fermented foods include2:

  • Kefir (fermented milk beverage)
  • Kombucha (fermented tea beverage)
  • Sauerkraut (fermented cabbage)
  • Tempeh (fermented soybeans)
  • Natto (fermented soybeans)
  • Miso (fermented soybean paste)
  • Kimchi (fermented vegetables)
  • Sourdough bread
  • Yoghurt
  • Sour cream

You can also help repopulate the beneficial microbes in your body by taking a probiotic supplement. It is important to remember that not all probiotic supplements are the same. Different strains of probiotics are shown to benefit completely different conditions. For this reason, it is important to choose a probiotic formula which contains strains that have been researched alone and in combination with each other and at the appropriate strength for their intended use.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestible forms of dietary fibre that feed or fertilise the beneficial bacteria in your gut. They help nourish the gut microbiome and boost the growth of healthy bacteria. Furthermore, when gut bacteria breakdown prebiotic fibre, they produce byproducts known as short-chain fatty acids. These compounds are crucial for keeping the gastrointestinal tract functioning properly and are proposed to have other health promoting effects on the body outside of the digestive system.3  

Where can I get prebiotics from?

The main sources of prebiotics in the diet are fructo-oligosaccharides and galacto-oligosaccharides, which are naturally found in a variety of foods including:3,4

  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Garlic
  • Chicory
  • Onion
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Honey
  • Whole grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats)
  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Dried fruit – e.g., dates, figs
  • Cashews and pistachio nuts
  • Custard apples
  • Nectarines and white peaches
  • Rambutan
  • Persimmon
  • Breastmilk
  • Cow’s milk

Some probiotic supplements, such as Inner Health Plus, provide a prebiotic to complement its effects, in the form of bovine colostrum (the first milk produced by a cow after giving birth).

The takeaway

Ultimately, probiotics and prebiotics work together. Probiotics help maintain a healthy gut microbiome and prebiotics provide the fuel they need to survive and thrive. By consuming a variety of prebiotic food sources, fermented foods and appropriate probiotic supplements you will support the microbes in your gut and provide an array of health benefits for your body. 


  1. Lozupone, CA et al 2012, ‘Diversity, stability and resilience of the human gut microbiota’, Nature, 489, no 7415, pp 220-30, doi:10.1038/nature11550
  2. Dimidi, E et al 2019, ‘Fermented Foods: Definitions and Characteristics, Impact on the Gut Microbiota and Effects on Gastrointestinal Health and Disease,’ Nutrients 11, no 8 p1806, doi:10.3390/nu11081806
  3. Davani-Davari, D et al 2019, ‘Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and Clinical Applications’, Foods (Basel, Switzerland), 8, no 3 p 92, doi:10.3390/foods8030092
  4. Monash University 2022, Prebiotic diet FAQs, Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, viewed 29 August 2022, <>
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