12 Prebiotic Foods
If you’ve heard of probiotics, you are probably familiar with the importance of gut health, but have you heard of prebiotics? Prebiotics are a form of dietary fiber found in plant foods that help to feed the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Here is a list of prebiotic-containing whole foods that you can easily add to your diet today.
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a form of indigestible plant fiber that feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Prebiotic fiber passes through the digestive tract untouched until it reaches the colon where it is fermented and serves as a source of “food” for the probiotic bacteria found in your gut. There are many types of prebiotics, the majority of them are a subset of carbohydrate groups, mostly oligosaccharide, and include fructans, galacto-oligosaccharides, and resistant starch. (1)
Benefits of Prebiotics
Prebiotics help to feed our gut microbiota; a major body organ that has a huge impact on overall health. Adequate consumption of prebiotic fibre helps to promote the growth and maintenance of beneficial bacteria in the gut, helping to produce beneficial nutrients, support digestive function, support immune function, reduce allergy symptoms, reduce inflammation, balance metabolism, and boost mood. (2)(3)
List of Prebiotic Foods
Here is a list of easily found, convenient, and versatile prebiotic foods.
Whether you like gala, Honeycrisp, or Granny Smith, apples are a good source of prebiotic fiber, as well as pectin, a form of soluble fiber. (4) Apples are also a good source of antioxidants and vitamin C, not to mention they are inexpensive, convenient, and versatile. Apples can be consumed on their own, sliced into salads, cooked into savory dishes, or baked into muffins and oatmeal.
Asparagus is a great food to help boost your prebiotic fiber intake and add some greens to your diet at the same time. Asparagus is a good source of inulin; a form of fructo-oligosaccharide, which may improve digestive health, relieve constipation, promote weight loss, and help control diabetes. (5)(6) Asparagus can be steamed, boiled, grilled, roasted, blanched, and added to salads, or cooked into risotto, soups, and stews.
Bananas, specifically slightly unripe bananas, are high in resistant starch and contain a small amount of inulin. (7) Bananas are also a source of complex and simple carbohydrates, including natural sugars, making them great for satisfying a sweet tooth while benefiting your gut health at the same time. Underripe, green bananas can be made into fried green bananas or added to a savory stew.
Barley is a whole grain rich in beta-glucan; a prebiotic fiber that improves the growth rate of probiotic bacteria. Beta-glucan has also been shown to help lower total and LDL cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. (8)(9) Barley can be cooked into soups, and stews, made into bread, or used in salads.
5. Chicory Root
Chicory root comes from a flowering plant that is part of the dandelion family and is high in inulin and prebiotic fiber. Chicory root has a distinct coffee-like flavor and has historically been used as natural medicine, however, is now commonly used in teas, protein and fiber bars, and low-sugar cereals.
6. Dandelion Greens
Dandelion greens are a highly nutritious plant loaded with vitamins, minerals, and prebiotic fiber. Dandelion greens have been shown to improve digestion, improve immune health, and reduce inflammation and cholesterol levels. (10) Dandelion greens are a versatile and inexpensive ingredient that can be sautéed, steamed, and added to salads, soups, or stews similar to kale, spinach, collards, or other dark leafy greens.
Garlic is an herb with a long tradition of medicinal use well known for its antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Garlic is also a source of prebiotic fiber that promotes the growth of the beneficial bacteria Bifidobacteria in the gut. (11) Garlic can be added to marinades, dressings, meats, veggies, soups, stews, casseroles, pasta, and one-pot meals, or consumed in conjunction with other prebiotic food for an extra boost.
8. Jerusalem Artichoke
Jerusalem artichokes, also known as the sunchokes or earth apples, are an inulin-rich source of dietary fiber and have been shown to increase the friendly bacteria in your colon. (12) Jerusalem artichokes are tubers that are similar to root vegetables in texture and appearance and, once cooked, act quite similar to potatoes, making them ideal for boiling or roasting.
Leeks are a good source of prebiotic fiber, vitamin K and antioxidants called flavonoids. (13) Leeks are from the same plant family as garlic and onion, the Allium genus, and therefore offer similar health benefits. With their distinct mild and sweet flavors, leeks are a wonderful substitute for onions or can be added to soups, stews, pasta, quiches, or sautéed on their own to create a simple side dish.
Oats are well known for being a healthy whole grain and are also a good source of prebiotic fiber thanks to their high level of beta-glucan and some resistant starch. The high level of fiber and nutrients found in oats has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels, improve blood sugar control, slow digestion, and control appetite. (14)(15) Whether you are using steel-cut, rolled or quick-cooking, oats are a versatile and inexpensive ingredient that can be used for a bowl of oatmeal, baked oatmeal, overnight oats or added to your favorite baked goods.
Onions are another versatile and inexpensive ingredient that is rich and nutrients and prebiotic fiber. Similar to garlic, onions are rich in inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides which aid digestion and boost beneficial gut bacteria. (5)(6) Onions also contain antioxidants and compounds that help to fight inflammation, decrease triglycerides and reduce cholesterol levels, all of which may help fight heart disease. (16)(17)(18) Onions are a flavourful addition to the base of any soup, stew, sauce, marinade, or dressing.
Rye is a whole grain, commonly used for bread and cereals that is rich in prebiotic fiber. Rye grains, the bran in particular, are a good source of beta-glucan (similar to oats) and are also a source of fructo-oligosaccharides and arabinoxylan, which were shown to promote the growth of specific probiotic bacteria in the gut. (19)(20) Additionally, when rye flour is fermented for use in sourdough bread, rye was shown to help feed the microbes in the gut. (21) Rye has a dark color and nutty taste and is commonly used in bread and crackers.
Other prebiotic-containing foods include cacao, flaxseed, burdock root, jicama root, yacon root, wheat bran, and seaweed.
The Bottom Line
Prebiotic foods are a rich source of prebiotic fiber that is essential for optimal gut health. Prebiotic fibers, including fructans, galacto-oligosaccharides, and resistant starch, help to promote the growth of probiotic bacteria in the digestive tract. Consuming a wide variety of prebiotic foods can help to support your gut and overall health.