Sina Health Centre


Fibre Foods


You may have heard about probiotics and their role in digestive health. But what about prebiotics?  What are they? What are their health benefits? Read on to learn the difference between prebiotics and probiotics and their health benefits.

The difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as “food” for probiotics. Prebiotics help probiotics grow and remain in your digestive system.

However, not all non-digestible carbohydrates are prebiotics; all prebiotics must meet specific scientific criteria.

Common prebiotics

  • Fructo-oligosaccarides (FOS) or fructans and
    • Inulin is one of the most commonly used types of FOS.
  • Galacto-oligosaccardes (GOS)

Food Sources of prebiotics

Inulin, a type of FOS is naturally found in:


  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Onion
  • Shallots
  • Tomatoes


  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Whole grains


  • Chicory root
  • Dandelion root
  • Elecampane root

Galacto-oligosaccardes (GOS) is naturally found in:

  • Fermented dairy products like yogurt, buttermilk and kefir
  • Also found naturally in breast milk

Where else are prebiotics found?

In Canada, prebiotics may be found:

  • on their own as a prebiotic supplement
  • in a probiotic supplement
  • in a nutritional supplement or meal replacement
  • in a fibre supplement (containing inulin)
  • in a vitamin, mineral or herbal supplement (typically as inulin or FOS)

If prebiotics are sold as supplements, they are regulated like other vitamin, mineral and nutritional supplements under the Natural Health Product Regulations (NHP Regulations). NHPs require a Natural Product Number (NPN), a Drug Information Number (DIN) or a Homeopathic Medicine Number (DIN-HM) in Canada. Check to see your supplement has a NPN, DIN or a DIN-HM number.

Remember, being regulated does not guarantee that prebiotics are effective. It only means that the product contains what is listed on the label and that they are safe to take.

The “pros” of pre and probiotics

Research to date has shown that prebiotics can improve constipation. Probiotics also improve lactose intolerance, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, and intestinal infections. Other possible uses for prebiotics and probiotics include reducing blood lipids (fats); improving calcium absorption; treating irritable bowel disease (IBD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and traveller’s diarrhea; treating and preventing colon cancer; and preventing various infections in the gut. However, more research is needed to confirm these benefits.

How much prebiotics do I need to see a benefit?

The recommended amount is unknown. Likely, it will depend on a number of things like the strain of bacteria, the health condition you are trying to improve and the types of other bacteria in the colon.

It is also thought that prebiotic supplements or prebiotic-rich foods need to be taken regularly to see any benefits. Taking prebiotics on a regular basis will provide a constant flow of “food” for the helpful bacteria (probiotics) in your digestive system.

Can my child take prebiotics? What about if I’m pregnant?

Yes. Infants, children and pregnant women can safely consume prebiotic-containing foods and supplements. As with the rest of the population, there are no recommended amounts for infants, children and pregnant women. Speak to your doctor to find out if prebiotic supplements are right for you and your children.

Key Points

  • Pre and pro biotics promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut
  • Pro biotics come from fermented foods and supplements
  • Prebiotics come in fruits and vegetables and in supplements


EatRight Ontario  [Internet]. Dietitians of Canada; 2015[cited 2015 June 4]. Available from:

Marteau P, Seksik P, Jian R.   (2002)  Probiotics and intestinal health effects: a clinical perspective.  British Journal of Nutrition, 88, Suppl. 1, S51-S57.

Saavedra JM, Tschernai A. (2002)   Human studies with probiotics and prebiotics: clinical implications.  British Journal of Nutrition, 87, Suppl. 2, S241-S246.

Marteau P, Boutron-Ruault MC.   (2002)  Nutritional advantages of probiotics and prebiotics. British Journal of Nutrition, 87, Suppl. 2, S153-S157.

Manning TS, Gibson GR.   (2004)  Prebiotics.  Best Practice & Research Clinical Gastroenterology, 18(2), 287-298.