Wait, What's the Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

basket of green apples

Over the past few years, gut health has become a mainstay of wellness conversations, with everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to your mom talking about “good” bacteria. (Admit it, you’ve gotten into at least one heated debate about kimchi brands.) We know all about probiotics (live bacteria found in certain foods and supplements), but what about prebiotics? Here’s the deal—including how to make sure you’re getting your fill.

What are they? Prebiotics are types of dietary fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut. Alongside probiotics, prebiotics are an important part of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome, which is related to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, colitis and acid reflux. According to Dr. Erika Angle, biochemist and CEO of gut microbiome test Ixcela, “The gut microbiome is such a hot area now because people are realizing it’s not just its own system. It’s actually linked to your brain health, emotional health, cardiovascular health and other systems, as well.”

How are they different from probiotics? Prebiotics are the foods that probiotics eat. The more prebiotics that probiotics have, the more efficiently they work and the healthier your gut will be. 

How can I take prebiotics? Just like you can find probiotics in yogurt and sauerkraut, prebiotics can be found in lots of high-fiber foods. Among your best options? Jicama, artichokes, apples, asparagus, garlic and onions. You can also take a prebiotic supplement alongside your probiotic. According to the FDA, the average woman should aim to eat 25 to 30 grams of fiber every day. Be aware that, once you start taking better care of your microbiome, certain results (like being more regular and less bloated) won’t be immediate. According to Dr. Angle, “You can see some changes [in your gut microbiome] after about a month or so, but it takes about two to three months for the gut bacteria to really shift.”

Permission to double the amount of garlic in your favorite recipes, granted. 

How to Give Yourself a Complete Gut Makeover

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...