Prebiotic foods are types of dietary fibers that promote the activity and growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. These substances are not digestible by the human body but serve as a source of nutrition for the beneficial bacteria in the digestive system.
What Are Prebiotic Foods?
The term “prebiotic” is derived from the idea that these compounds are “before” (pre) probiotics, which are the live microorganisms (usually bacteria) that confer health benefits when consumed in adequate amounts.
Common types of prebiotic compounds include:
- Inulin: Found in foods like chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, onions, garlic and bananas.
- Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS): Present in foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus and bananas.
- Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS): Found in legumes (beans, lentils), certain vegetables and some grains.
- Resistant starch: Found in underripe bananas, cooked and cooled potatoes, legumes, and some grains.
- Dietary fiber: While not exclusively prebiotic, many types of dietary fiber, such as soluble fibers found in oats, barley and certain fruits, can also have prebiotic effects.
Consuming prebiotic foods can help support the growth and activity of beneficial bacteria, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, in the gut. These bacteria play a crucial role in maintaining a healthy digestive system and have been associated with various health benefits, including improved digestion, enhanced nutrient absorption and a strengthened immune system.
Including a variety of prebiotic-rich foods in your diet can contribute to overall gut health and overall well-being.
Best Prebiotic Foods
1. Chicory Root
High in inulin, chicory root is one of the richest sources of prebiotics. In fact, according to research published in the Scientific World Journal, 68 percent of chicory root fiber is prebiotic fiber.
2. Jerusalem Artichokes
A one-cup serving of sliced Jerusalem artichokes (about 150 grams) contains about 2.4 grams of fiber. Rich in inulin, these tubers are excellent for promoting gut health, as noted in the journal Microorganisms.
Onion nutrition is rich in inulin and FOS, both of which are prebiotic fibers. There are several different types of onions, and they come in varying sizes and can be consumed at varying serving sizes depending on the recipe. Overall, though, they have similar nutritional benefits, and all onions are certainly prebiotic foods.
In addition to their prebiotic gut-related benefits, onions have also been shown to support heart, bone, respiratory and immune health. They also can help lower the risk of arthritis, improve fertility, benefit sleep and even support skin health.
Like onions, garlic is a good source of FOS and inulin, and it acts like a prebiotic by preventing bad bacteria from building in the gut while also promoting the growth of good bacteria. Also like onions, the serving size depends on the recipe, but most usually call for one to three cloves.
Many of garlic’s benefits come from the compound allicin, allowing this popular spice to help combat heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure, colds and infections, hair loss, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, diabetes, and skin issues.
Green bananas in particular contain resistant starch that acts as a prebiotic. Bananas are also loaded with potassium and can aid everything from energy levels to digestive health, mood, weight maintenance, kidney function and heart health.
Rich in inulin and a good source of fiber, leeks can help protect against cancer, heart disease, high cholesterol and infections. These prebiotic foods also can support healthy pregnancy, boost metabolism, promote weight loss and improve gut health.
8. Dandelion Greens
High in inulin and other prebiotic fibers, dandelion greens can be consumed raw or cooked. These greens are also high in vitamins K, A, C and E, along with calcium, iron and manganese.
Oats contain beta-glucans, a type of soluble fiber with prebiotic properties, and are naturally gluten-free. Thanks to their role as prebiotic foods, oats can help lower cholesterol, protect and boost digestion, support immune health, and provide vital micronutrients and macronutrients.
Particularly rich in pectin, a type of fiber that can act as a prebiotic, apples nutrition also provides a good amount of vitamin C, B6, potassium and vitamin K, and this is true despite the variety. Whether you eat them all on their own or part of another dish, apples can help combat cancer, inflammation, heart disease, digestive issues, diabetes, asthma and arthritis.
These traits make high-quality cocoa a surprisingly beneficial food in moderation. For instance, it may help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, support cardiovascular and metabolic health, potentially improve mood and energy, and protect the brain and improve mental performance.
Rich in fiber, including mucilage, which has prebiotic properties, flaxseeds are also high in manganese, thiamine, magnesium, phosphorus, copper and selenium. They also provide omega-3s and antioxidants and are low in carbs and gluten-free.
Flaxseeds have been shown to help with everything from menopausal and hormonal issues to weight maintenance, cancer risk, digestion, blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol levels, skin and hair health, and more.
Barley nutrition contains beta-glucans and other prebiotic fibers, along with B vitamins and several important minerals, such as manganese and selenium. Thanks to those nutrients, barley is one of the better grain options out there.
14. Wheat Bran
A good source of prebiotic fibers, wheat bran nutrition is also high in many minerals and B vitamins. Since it acts as prebiotic thanks to its fiber content, wheat bran benefits digestion, weight maintenance and more.
15. Legumes and Beans
about 6 to 8 grams fiber per half-cup
Beans, lentils, chickpeas and other legumes contain resistant starch and other prebiotic fibers. In addition, they’re high in protein, promote regularity, support heart health, help stabilize blood sugar and may even help fight cancer.
There are so many varieties of beans and legumes to eat, including:
- Black beans
- Navy beans
- Kidney beans
- Green beans
- Pinto beans
- Fava beans
- Adzuki beans
Jicama contains inulin and is a crunchy, low-calorie option that’s known to help with weight loss. In addition, jicama is a prebiotic food that can potentially increase immune function, benefit heart health, boost digestion and support bone health.
Some types of seaweed contain prebiotic fibers along with high levels of copper, riboflavin, thiamine, iron, manganese and niacin. Here are common seaweed varieties that double as prebiotic foods:
Cabbage contains inulin and is a source of fiber and many other essential nutrients. For instance, it’s extremely high in vitamins C, K and B6, and it provides several other key minerals and vitamins.
Rich in fiber, including prebiotic fibers, carrots also supply beta-carotene; vitamins A, K and B6; potassium; thiamine; and niacin. As you probably know, carrots are good for your eyes, but these prebiotic foods offer several other benefits as well.
Other prebiotic foods include:
Including a variety of these prebiotic-rich foods in your diet can contribute to a diverse and healthy gut microbiome, which is associated with various health benefits. Keep in mind that individual responses to prebiotics can vary, so it’s a good idea to introduce them gradually and pay attention to how your body responds.
How to Get Prebiotics Into Your Diet
Incorporating prebiotics into your diet is relatively easy, as many prebiotic-rich foods are readily available and can be included in a variety of meals and snacks. Here are some practical ways to get prebiotics into your diet:
- Eat a Variety of Fruits and Vegetables:
- Include a diverse range of fruits and vegetables in your daily meals. Onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas, apples and artichokes are particularly good choices.
- Choose Whole Grains:
- Opt for whole grains such as oats, barley and wheat, which contain prebiotic fibers.
- Include Legumes:
- Incorporate legumes like beans, lentils and chickpeas into soups, stews, salads or side dishes.
- Snack on Nuts and Seeds:
- Snack on nuts and seeds like flaxseeds, chia seeds and almonds, which provide a source of prebiotic fibers.
- Add Dandelion Greens to Salads:
- Include dandelion greens in your salads for a prebiotic boost.
- Use Chicory Root in Coffee or Tea:
- Chicory root is often ground and used as a coffee substitute. You can also find chicory root tea or add it to your regular coffee or tea.
- Experiment with Seaweed:
- Incorporate seaweed into your diet through sushi, salads or soups.
- Enjoy Yacon Syrup:
- Yacon syrup is derived from the yacon plant and is a sweet syrup that contains prebiotics. Use it as a natural sweetener in moderation.
- Include Cocoa in Your Diet:
- Choose high-quality, dark chocolate or cocoa powder to enjoy the potential prebiotic benefits.
- Use Whole Garlic and Onions:
- Use whole garlic and onions in cooking, as they contain prebiotic fibers. Incorporate them into sauces, soups, stir-fries and other dishes.
- Add Jicama to Salads or Snack Trays:
- Jicama has a crisp texture and can be sliced into sticks for snacking or added to salads.
- Try Prebiotic Supplements:
- If it’s challenging to get enough prebiotics from food, consider prebiotic supplements. However, it’s always best to consult with a health care professional before adding supplements to your routine.
Remember to introduce prebiotic-rich foods gradually if you’re not used to consuming them regularly. This can help your digestive system adjust to the increased fiber intake. Additionally, staying hydrated is essential, as fiber absorbs water and can help maintain digestive regularity.