Probiotics vs. Prebiotics: What You Need To Know
  /   Dr. John Snow

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics: What You Need To Know

Every parent wants to keep their child happy and healthy. Parents are more mindful about the foods they purchase and prepare. You’re trying to encourage our children to put away their screens and engage in outdoor activities. You’re taking holistic approaches to enhance your child’s wellness.

Probiotic and prebiotic supplements are quickly gaining popularity among parents looking to make wellness-conscious choices at home. Probiotics and prebiotics often come bundled into a single supplement touting joint health benefits, but you can also find them individually. Here’s what you need to know about their differences and how they work together to keep your child’s gut microbiome healthy.

What Are Probiotics?

The human gut needs bacteria to digest food and eliminate waste. There are good bacteria and bad bacteria when it comes to digestive health. There will always be some bad bacteria in the gut, given what the gut does. However, the good bacteria should ideally outnumber the bad bacteria, keeping the gut in balance

If the gut's bacterial balance is off, the bad bacteria can cause issues like gas, bloating, diarrhea, or constipation. A healthy gut needs sufficient good bacteria to keep things moving smoothly. Probiotics are the good bacteria your digestive tract needs.

When your child takes probiotics, the good bacteria entering their gut can work to restore balance in the digestive system and support overall health. When your child’s gut bacteria is balanced, they’re less likely to experience symptoms of digestive distress. Supporting gut health can also work to promote nutrient absorption and support regular immune health.

What Are Probiotic Foods?

Fermented, cultured, and pickled foods are usually high in naturally occurring probiotics. They contain beneficial live bacteria and microorganisms that can help to support your child’s gut. Probiotic food sources include:

  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Olives
  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut
  • Sourdough bread
  • Swiss cheese
  • Tempeh
  • Yogurt

As a parent, you probably looked at this list and quickly concluded that

supplemental probiotics will work better in your household. Children don’t usually request fermented foods for lunch, especially if they’re picky eaters

Fruit and yogurt is usually an easy sell, especially since frozen yogurt also contains probiotic cultures. You can try making sourdough grilled cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

It can be hard to get children interested in foods like kombucha, which can be polarizing even for adults. Encourage your children to try probiotic foods, but don’t put pressure on the situation. Let them know you love foods like olives, and you think it’s strange that they don’t, but don’t force them to eat foods they truly dislike.

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are not live bacteria, but they’re essential for the growth of beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics are plant-based fibers. Fiber is indigestible. It passes through the digestive system intact, eventually reaching the colon. 

Fiber helps to promote intestinal motility. It softens stool and draws in water, making it easier to empty your bowels. That’s why fiber is touted as helpful for constipation and diarrhea. In both cases, it does a good job of helping things move along. 

Prebiotic dietary fiber can help to regulate spikes in blood sugar and help to ferment food in your intestines, helping your body pass waste sooner. 

What Are Prebiotic Foods?

Prebiotic foods that contain beneficial plant-based fiber. Almost all fruits, vegetables, and grains contain prebiotic fiber. Some are slightly more potent sources than others. As a rule, all whole foods deserve a place on your family’s plates. These just happen to have more significant amounts of prebiotic fiber than many other foods:

  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Cocoa
  • Garlic
  • Leafy greens
  • Leeks
  • Legumes
  • Onions
  • Soybeans
  • Whole grains and carbohydrates

There are plenty of prebiotic foods that children enjoy. Try making a peanut butter and banana sandwich with a sprinkle of cocoa powder on whole grain bread. Most kids will happily gobble it up without complaint. 

Greens are the most valuable source of prebiotics and where most parents have the most trouble. It probably took you a long time to learn to love salad. It’s only normal that your kids may have some reservations. Try serving salad up with fun dressing. Try chocolate soymilk or a build-your-own-oatmeal breakfast bar with lots of fun fruit toppings.

You can also choose fortified foods. Some foods, like cereal and bread, contain added prebiotic fiber. Look for ingredients like inulin, chicory fiber, oligofructose, fructooligosaccharides, and galactooligosaccharides. 

These ingredients may look intimidating because they’re so difficult to pronounce, but they aren’t processed or artificial. They’re the scientific names for the naturally occurring prebiotic fiber in plants. They’re perfectly harmless, and they may be a valuable way for you to work more prebiotics into your child’s diet. 

How Do Probiotics and Prebiotics Work Together?

Every living thing has a preferred habitat and a specific diet. You keep your goldfish in a fish bowl and feed it special flakes. You keep good bacteria in your but and feed it prebiotics. 

Prebiotic fiber establishes the proper environment for probiotic bacteria to thrive and populate the gut. They’re food for the bacteria you want to live in your gut. Nourishing prebiotic bacteria keep them active and energized, so they can get to work quickly and efficiently. 

Probiotics and prebiotics are an excellent team. That’s why many probiotic supplements incorporate prebiotics. When possible, prepare meals that combine the two groups of foods. 

Can Probiotics Work Without Prebiotics?

Probiotics can work without prebiotics. Macaroni can also work without cheese, but that doesn’t mean they’re quite as good when you separate them. Prebiotics give probiotics a very important boost. When two things have a synergistic relationship, it’s always best to use them together. Teamwork makes the dream work.

Does My Child Need Probiotics and Prebiotics?

We all need beneficial bacteria and fiber to stay healthy. Your child does need to consume probiotics and prebiotics in some capacity. The best way to get probiotics and prebiotics is through your regular diet. In a perfect world, things would always work out that way. When it comes to picky eaters, things are rarely that simple

If your child’s digestive system seems to function perfectly and they eat a wide variety of foods, there’s nothing to be concerned about. Their body is getting what it needs to keep things moving smoothly. 

If your child refuses most healthy foods, be patient. Keep trying new things. Make a big deal about how much you love them and how good they make you feel. Lead by example. Your child may grow to like certain foods, especially when they start to become keen on the idea of “growing up” and eating at the adult’s table. 

In the meantime, you can’t let your child experience digestive distress. If you notice that your child is experiencing tummy aches, you’ll need to take action.

If your child is experiencing digestive discomfort, bloating, gas, diarrhea, or constipation regularly, you need to speak to your pediatrician. Your pediatrician will examine your child and attempt to determine the cause of their digestive upset. In some cases, probiotics and prebiotics might be a beneficial part of your child’s wellness plan. 

Are Probiotics and Prebiotics Safe for Kids?

Probiotics and prebiotics are both safe for most healthy kids. You need to talk to your child’s pediatrician if your child has a condition that affects their digestive system. You also want to ensure that their digestive upset isn’t caused by food intolerance. If it is, probiotics won’t help. A change of diet is in order. 

Children with conditions that affect their immune systems shouldn’t use probiotics. Children with normal immune systems can handle healthy bacteria, but they may be too taxing on a compromised immune system.

Pediatricians sometimes recommend probiotic supplements for kids who have recently finished using antibiotics. Antibiotics can wipe out all the good bacteria in the gut, making it difficult to use the bathroom. Probiotics can work to restore order and mediate the side effects caused by antibiotics.

There are a lot of factors at play. If your child needs medical intervention for an allergy, a virus, or an infection, you don’t want to risk missing the severity of the situation by writing it off as an issue probiotics can fix. It’s always wise to ask your pediatrician before you make any changes to your child’s wellness routine. 

Hiya’s Probiotic + Prebiotic Was Made for Your Kids

Hiya’s children’s chewable probiotic contains 10 billion colony-forming units of live probiotics, as well as prebiotic fiber. It’s vegan, sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, and eco-friendly. We wanted to make a probiotic that all families could enjoy. There are never any sweeteners, artificial colors, artificial flavors, or gummy junk in Hiya.

If your child’s pediatrician agrees that they would benefit from a daily probiotic, Hiya is an easy choice. 



Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health | The BMJ

What Are Prebiotics and What Do They Do? | Cleveland Clinic

Prebiotics, probiotics and your health | Mayo Clinic