Food 

The Best Prebiotic Foods to Include In Your Diet

March 30, 2021 4 min read

Onions and garlic sources of prebiotic foods

Your digestive tract is home to over 100 trillion living bacteria. Unlike harmful bacteria that can make you sick, probiotics are live microorganisms or “friendly” bacteria that help keep your immune system strong and support other essential functions in the body like digestion and mood regulation.

Much like humans, probiotics need nutrients to survive and flourish in the body. That’s where prebiotics come in, feeding the good bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are found in high-fiber foods, which not only support digestion but also strengthen gut flora, allowing your body to fight diseases like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and obesity.

In this article, we share the best prebiotic foods to include in your diet for optimal gut support. 

Why are prebiotics important for gut health? 

Your gut microbiome is responsible for many vital functions that keep you healthy, such as creating K and B vitamins and maintaining your metabolism. It’s also incredibly sensitive to your dietary habits, which is why eating foods rich in fiber and prebiotics is so important. 

“Dysbiosis,” otherwise known as an imbalance of good versus bad bacteria in the gut, can create inflammation in the body, which can then lead to disease. Studies show that an unbalanced diet, and therefore an unbalanced gut flora, is linked to various diseases, including:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Depression

Adding more prebiotic fiber to your meals allows the probiotic bacteria in the gut to flourish and reduce chronic inflammation in the body. People with a healthy gut flora are more likely to enjoy the following benefits:

  • Stay more energized
  • Regulate appetite 
  • Improve skin appearance
  • Absorb nutrients better
  • Strengthen metabolism
  • Improve immune function
  • Regulate digestion

How do prebiotics work in the body?

One of the gut’s many functions includes turning fiber into healthy fats. These fats help stimulate the immune system and strengthen the gut lining, which protects it from unwanted substances and harmful bacteria trying to enter the body.

In this process, the probiotic bacteria in your gut will feed on whatever you eat and digest. So if you eat a lot of quickly digested foods, the bacteria don’t have a lot to work with. The body rapidly absorbs simple, refined carbohydrates and salty, processed foods commonly found in Western diets. This absorption explains why sugary foods give you that immediate energy boost and why junk food gets stored as fat. 

When these foods make up the bulk of your diet, the lower gut cannot feed on anything to keep its good bacteria alive. As a result, those helpful bacteria eventually starve off, leaving the body with limited defense against harmful bacteria and a disrupted digestive system.

Eating a diet rich in complex carbs and various plants can help keep gut bacteria alive, improve digestion, and keep your body healthy.

Tomatoes, lemon, peppers, and garlic in a mesh grocery bag

What are some prebiotic foods?

Health experts recommend a high-fiber diet to keep the gut flora alive and balanced. Some studies show that simply adding prebiotic veggies to an otherwise unhealthy diet can improve the balance of gut bacteria. Still, a balanced diet of carbs, proteins, and grains will give you the best results.

Here are the best prebiotic-rich foods that can help keep your gut happy:

  • Chicory rootcontains 65% fiber by weight, making it one of the best sources of prebiotics. It’s known for its coffee flavor and can be added to recipes, cereal, breakfast bars, or stirred into your morning coffee.
  • Jerusalem artichoke resembles ginger root but tastes more like artichokes. A cup of sliced Jerusalem artichokes contains about 2.4 grams of fiber along with iron and has prebiotic properties to stimulate probiotic growth.
  • Dandelion greenscan often be found in the greens section of your local store and used in salads, soups, or even as tea. The plant is known to reduce constipation and increase friendly bacteria in the gut.
  • Raw garliccontains prebiotic properties and helps grow the beneficial probiotic Bifidobacteria, which studies show has been linked to reducing the risks of heart disease, cancer, and asthma.
  • Onions have similar prebiotic properties to garlic and can easily be caramelized, grilled, or sauteed. Onions are also known to have antibiotic properties that can help support the body’s immune system.
  • Leeks are a sweeter version of onions and share many benefits. They can be sauteed, grilled, mixed into salads, or garnished on soups. 
  • Asparagusis an excellent source of fiber and prebiotics and is high in folic acid, potassium, thiamin, and vitamins A, B6, and C.
  • Wheat bran, commonly used in cereals, oatmeal, or smoothies, is primarily made up of arabinoxylan oligosaccharides (AXOS) fiber. This nutrient is known to improve metabolism and probiotic growth in the gut.
  • Bananas are rich in potassium and prebiotic fiber. In particular, unripe, or green, bananas are high in resistant starch, which has prebiotic effects on the body.

Other prebiotic sources include soybeans, chickpeas, whole grain oats like barley or rolled oats, flaxseed, and seaweed.

Probiotic foods include yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods. Eating a balanced diet of both prebiotic and probiotic foods can help boost the growth of friendly bacteria in the body and help supplements work more effectively.

In summary

Prebiotic foods not only support the growth of good bacteria in the body, but they can boost the effectiveness of the probiotics you’re already taking. Plus, if you’re taking a probiotic formulated with prebiotics, you gain an extra boost from your supplement to help the good bacteria survive in the body for longer.

Eating whole foods rich in both prebiotics and probiotics can help keep the gut healthy and protect the body from diseases like obesity, cancer, depression, and more. Pairing these foods with complex carbs and dietary fibers can help keep friendly bacteria in the gut alive and balanced, making you feel more energized and healthy.

Regina Rayan - Contributing Writer, Physician's Choice