Prebiotic vs. Probiotic vs. Postbiotic: Chart and Gut Facts

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Research shows that gut health significantly impacts overall well-being. You can support your gut health using prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics. Each serves a different yet collaborative purpose in encouraging good bacteria to thrive in your digestive system.

This article discusses the differences between prebiotics and probiotics, their effects on gut health, and the best sources of each.

Yogurt with banana in a bowl.

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Function of Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

Though probiotics are good living bacteria, prebiotics are the food that promotes their growth. Postbiotics are byproducts of the good bacteria left behind when probiotics ferment prebiotics. They contain dead bacteria, short-chain fatty acids (a type of good bacteria), and peptides that support bodily function.

Prebiotics and probiotics can be found in supplemental forms and certain foods, and you'll get postbiotics just by consuming these first. Below is a chart outlining their primary functions.

  Prebiotics Probiotics
Definition Plant fibers found primarily in foods that contain complex carbohydrates, like resistant starch and fiber. Good bacteria that live in the gut.
Function Act as a fertilizer to promote the growth and health of probiotic bacteria. Promote healthy digestive function, support immune health, and influence overall wellness.
How They Work Feed good intestinal bacteria and when they are fermented, they produce short-chain fatty acids like lactic acid, butyric acid, and propionic acid that benefit digestive and immune health. Help maintain a healthy balance of good vs. bad bacteria in your digestive system, in order to support immune function and normal inflammation response.
How to Add Them Sold in many prebiotic + probiotic supplements and found in barley, asparagus, wheat bran, bananas, greens, onions, garlic, soybeans, chicory root, and Jerusalem artichokes. Sold in many probiotic supplements and found in fermented foods like yogurt, tempeh, miso, natto, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kimchi.

Effect on Gut Health

Poor gut health can manifest as changes in bowel habits and symptoms like bloating and abdominal discomfort. Left unmanaged, it can increase the risk for other chronic conditions. Therefore, supporting your gut health is one of the best things you can do to encourage long-term wellness.

Prebiotics, probiotics, and postbiotics work together to improve your gut health. Though probiotics are often the go-to for digestive complaints, adding prebiotics helps by ensuring probiotics are well fed and can survive the digestive process. Prebiotics also help probiotics thrive and fuel the growth of good bacteria throughout your digestive system.

The collaborative relationship between prebiotics and probiotics results in postbiotics. Though postbiotics are relatively new to the digestive health conversation, they are thought to offer benefits to gut and immune health. Still, more research on their specific activities is necessary.

Food Sources

Prebiotics and probiotics are naturally occurring in several foods you may already eat.

You can find prebiotics in foods like:

  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Barley
  • Chicory root
  • Garlic
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Onions
  • Seaweed
  • Wheat bran

You can find probiotics in fermented foods such as:

  • Certain aged cheeses
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut
  • Yogurt that contains live and active cultures

Probiotic Supplements: What to Look For

There's no shortage of probiotic supplements to choose from. Looking for one can be a little overwhelming, but keep these tips in mind when selecting the best probiotic supplement for your goals.

  • Choose the right strain. Probiotics provide different strains for different health needs. Some may be single-strain products, while others are multi-strain; they're not all meant to address the same concern.
  • Opt for higher CFUs. Probiotics containing more colony-forming units (CFUs) are often more effective. CFUs are a unit of measurement that indicates how many bacteria can divide and form colonies. Though there's no standard amount, some researchers say probiotics that have at least 1 million CFUs per gram ensure that enough survive digestion and can offer the intended benefits.
  • Find an independently tested product. Probiotics that bear a third-party testing seal, such as one from the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), the United States Pharmacopeia (USP), or ConsumerLab, have been independently tested for purity, quality, and safety. This seal indicates the brand has gone above and beyond to ensure the quality of its product.
  • Consider storage requirements. Some probiotic supplements require refrigeration, while others do not. You should base your supplement selection on your personal preference and lifestyle. For instance, if you travel a lot and want to keep the supplement with you, you may opt for one that you can leave at room temperature.


Over the years, prebiotics and probiotics have garnered attention in the health and wellness industry. To thrive in your digestive system, prebiotics act as fertilizer for probiotics or good gut bacteria. The relationship between them also results in postbiotics, a newcomer to the gut health conversation that may also have benefits to offer. Consider a prebiotic and probiotic supplement or add some natural food sources to your diet to improve your gut health.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are probiotics better than prebiotics?

    Probiotics and prebiotics are different from one another but work together for your benefit. Though probiotics are the good living bacteria in your gut, prebiotics act as the food that helps them thrive. In either supplemental or food form, prebiotics and probiotics work together to help support your gut.

  • Can you take prebiotics and probiotics together?

    Prebiotics and probiotics are often sold together as a single supplement. Taking them at the same time is sometimes called microbiome therapy. Though probiotics will work without prebiotics, using them together may improve how well the probiotics work. Prebiotics on their own may not offer many benefits.

  • Do probiotics help with constipation?

    Probiotics may help good gut bacteria thrive and drive out harmful gut bacteria, which improves stool consistency for some people. Certain strains, like Bifidobacterium lactis, Lactobacillus plantarum, and Streptococcus thermophilus, have the most evidence for supporting healthy bowel habits. If constipation is ongoing or does not improve, speak with your healthcare provider.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD
Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD, is a plant-based dietitian, writer, and speaker who specializes in helping people bring more plants to their plate. She's a highly respected writer in the health and nutrition space and loves talking about the power of diet. Lauren aims to connect people with the information and resources to live their healthiest, fullest life.