What You Need to Know About Prebiotics

Prebiotics Illustration

If you ask most people about prebiotics they will likely correct you and state, do you mean probiotics. The reason for this is because the general public has understood probiotics for a lot longer than prebiotics. There is a significant difference between prebiotics and probiotics, including different health benefits.

Probiotics are bacteria that are live and found in dairy products such as yogurt and in supplement form. Patients who are taking antibiotics are often prescribed probiotics as a way to help combat the gastrointestinal side effects from taking the medication. While probiotics have shown to be effective in the management of some types of gastrointestinal conditions, probiotics do not have the same powers as prebiotics offer.

Prebiotics Quiz

The first difference between probiotics and prebiotics is that probiotics are quite delicate. Stomach acid and heat can kill probiotics which will render them ineffective before they have even been digested. Prebiotics are more durable and can withstand cooking and remain intact. In addition, most prebiotics do not need to be refrigerated.

Individuals who do not eat dairy products because of dietary or simply taste reasons may find that getting enough probiotics can be difficult or nearly impossible. Additionally, we do not know which of the good bacteria that our bodies might benefit from. For some individuals a bacteria may be helpful and for others it may not be.

Prebiotics can be consumed by anyone and simply help the good bacteria that is already within the body grow faster. This means that prebiotics are good for anyone.

What is a Prebiotic

Simply put, prebiotics are specialized plant fibers that nourish the good bacteria that is already located in the colon or bowel. Where probiotics are used to introduce new good bacteria into the gut, prebiotics are more of a fertilizer for the good bacteria that is already there. Prebiotics can help good bacteria grow, which improves the overall good to bad bacteria ratio. The ratio of good to bad bacteria has a direct correlation to your overall well being and health.

Prebiotic Plant Fiber Illustration

The body does not actually digest these plant fibers itself. Instead, the fibers are used by the body in order to promote the growth of good bacteria within the gut. Recent studies of prebiotics have also shown that they can play a direct role in mental health.

People who take prebiotics daily tend to have fewer issues with depression, stress, and anxiety. In fact, during testing the saliva of individuals who consumed a prebiotic daily had less cortisol. High levels of cortisol have been linked to many mental health disorders.

Prebiotics are not destroyed by the body, unlike some probiotics. The prebiotics are not affected by bacteria or heat. It is easy to get the full effects of prebiotics when they are consumed in supplement that offers a full spectrum.

Probiotics vs Prebiotics

Both probiotics and prebiotics are important for overall health. When considering a probiotic or prebiotic regimen there are several facts that can be used to help you decide which is best for you.

Prebiotic Work Illustration

Prebiotic Facts

  • Prebiotics are a type of dietary fiber that helps the good bacteria in the gut grow.
  • Prebiotic supplements are not affected by time, acid, cold, or heat
  • Prebiotics offer a number of health benefits. Most of these benefits have been proven through research and include help with several chronic digestive disorders and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Prebiotics nourish good bacteria that already exists in the gut.

Probiotics Facts

  • Probiotics are found in dairy products and in supplement form. There are hundreds of species of probiotics.
  • Probiotics must be kept alive. They are fragile and may die because of time, heat, or stomach acid.
  • Probiotics may help with irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and may also help stop the recurrence of some types of bowel infections.
Probiotic Strains Illustration

Both prebiotics and probiotics offer different benefits to the body. Science has proven that prebiotics can help increase bone density, strengthen the immune system, and help control weight and appetite as well as improve bowel regularity. Some studies have found that people who take prebiotics also improve their mental health.

Types of Prebiotics

There are a number of different prebiotics found on the market today. In the United States the most common prebiotics include:

  • Lactulose
  • Galacto-oligosaccharides or GOS
  • Fructooligosaccharides or FOS
  • Inulin, which is sometimes called inulin fiber

The substances have been the subject of many different studies. The majority of the research focuses on FOS, GOS, and inulin. These substances have been safely used for for many years and because of this are generally regarded as being safe to use for prebiotic benefits.

Lactulose Bottle Package

There are also some newer prebiotics that have become available from Japan. These prebiotics include:

  • Pectic-oligosaccharides
  • Lactosucrose
  • Xylo-oligosaccharides
  • Soy-oligosaccharides
  • Isomalto-oligosaccharides

Each of these are newer compounds and have been studied to varying degrees. Most have been studied through laboratory test tubes and mainly through animal feeding studies. Since these prebiotics are relatively new and have not been tested thoroughly, the substances are not currently widely available.

Prebiotics Benefits

As mentioned there are several benefits of prebiotics. For many years there were few in the medical industry that fully realized how important the colon is in a person’s overall health. Within the past 15 years it has been discovered that the colon and more specifically, the bacteria that live within the colon, are extremely important to overall wellness.

Prebiotics Benefits Illustration

Healthy bacteria that live in the colon help strengthen the wall of the bowel, aid in regulation of hormone production, and improve mineral absorption. Prebiotics can help the body grow these good bacteria. When the gut has ample good bacteria you will experience better health overall from a mental, physical, and emotional standpoint. You are going to be better nourished, feel fuller, and be able to maintain a healthy weight more easily.

Essentially, prebiotics feed the friendly bacteria that is located throughout the small intestine. This can help improve the amounts of good bacteria in the system. Not only do prebiotics feed the good bacteria, but they also slow down the growth of bad bacteria. Some other advantages of prebiotics include:

  • Easy to store. Most prebiotics do not require any type of refrigeration
  • Great value for the money
  • Most prebiotics are readily available in a natural form from the grocery store.
  • Easy to include in your everyday diet. Chances are you are already eating several foods that are natural sources of prebiotics.

Prebiotics Side Effects

One of the biggest side effects of using prebiotics is that you may experience some type of gastrointestinal issue when you start taking them. This includes bloating or increased amounts of gas. This is typically only a problem when you first start taking them or if you take too many of them at once.

Man with Pain in Stomach Holding Hands on Belly

One of the ways to avoid having any type of issue when taking prebiotics is to start out with a smaller amount and then increase the amount that you take over several weeks.

Another issue with prebiotics is that in theory they should only feed good bacteria. However, if there is already an unbalance of the digestive flora, they may also support the growth of bad bacteria.

If you are experiencing intestinal dysbiosis, candida albicans overgrowth, or symptoms of food intolerance or if you know that your digestive flora is unbalanced, it is important to be careful when using prebiotics as they could exacerbate symptoms and worsen your situation overall.

Foods Containing Prebiotics

If dairy products are consumed it is easy to get servings of probiotics in your diet. For example, eating yogurt provides your body with probiotics. However, many people do not know where to find prebiotic fiber.

Prebiotics Food on Table

When it comes to natural prebiotics sources look to your fruits and vegetables. Some of the fruits, vegetables, and other foods that contain natural prebiotics include:


  • Tomatoes
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • ​Sunchokes
  • ​Chicory
  • Onions
  • Greens​
  • ​​Garlic
  • ​​Leeks
  • Asparagus
Onion on Black Background



Bananas on Table


Whole Grains



Wheat on Field




  • Chickpeas
  • ​Kidney beans
  • Lentils​
  • White beans​
  • ​Navy beans
  • ​Black beans

Including these natural prebiotic foods in your diet is one of the best ways to get the prebiotics that you need to improve your gut flora. Prebiotics that occur in food are stable and will survive the cooking process. This makes it easy and convenient to include them in your diet.

Chickpeas on Table

However, while it may sound easy to add these foods to your diet and get the prebiotic fiber that you need, it is really not this simple. The problem is that these foods contain minute amounts of fiber and because of this ingesting the fiber can be difficult. It is recommended that the average person consume 25 grams of fiber each day. The problem is that the foods that are high in prebiotic fiber are difficult to eat in large quantities every day.

Even though it may be difficult to get enough prebiotics from these food sources, it is still recommended that you add these foods to your diet in order to help improve your overall health as many of these foods not only contain prebiotics, but also contain other healthy vitamins and minerals that can support your overall wellbeing.

Processed Foods

In addition to the above foods, many prebiotics are now being added to some types of processed foods as well. Some of the processed foods that prebiotics are added to include dairy drinks, commercial yogurts, nutrition bars, meal replacement bars, green foods, cereals, cereal bars, functional wafers, as well as formula and infant foods. You can purchase many of these prebiotic foods at a local grocery store.

Man Holding For Head While Buying Prebiotics

It is important to note that many of these processed foods may have high amounts of salt and sugar and may not be as healthy as they appear. In addition, many processed foods such as canned beans do contain prebiotics, but may not have it on the label.

Prebiotics Supplements

Prebiotic supplements are also available. These supplements may be a stand alone product or as an enhanced supplement. Probiotics that have prebiotics added are quite easy to find. Remember, prebiotics work with probiotics so a combination of both can be very beneficial.

Spilling Prebiotics Supplements in Hand

The good news is there are prebiotic supplements that can be taken. In powdered form it can be added to any type of food. These prebiotics products are tasteless and can be added to water, soups, cereals, or just about anything that you consume.


Overall, when it comes to the best prebiotics natural food sources are typically offer the best option. Even though many foods that contain prebiotics only contain small amounts, if you eat enough of these foods the prebiotics can add up and help maintain your overall gut health. Gut health is extremely important to your overall health and is something that needs to be taken seriously. When your gut is healthy chances are you are going to be healthy as well.

Natural Prebiotics Food on Table

If you are not getting enough prebiotics from your food sources there are quality prebiotics supplements available. These supplements can provide you with the necessary prebiotics that your body needs in order to help good bacteria grow throughout the digestive system. This is different than probiotics, which are used in order to introduce new good bacteria into the system.

Overall, prebiotics should be looked at as being similar to putting fertilizer on your garden. When you are taking a prebiotic supplement or eating foods that are rich in prebiotics you are helping the good bacteria in your system grow and flourish. This is important because if the bad bacteria take over the good bacteria you can become quite ill.

Keeping a good balance of good and bad bacteria is the best way to maintain your overall health. One of the best ways to ensure that a balance is maintained is to make sure that you have enough prebiotics and probiotics in your system at all times.