Most of you must be familiar with the term probiotics though prebiotics may be a new term for many of you. But prebiotics is just as vital for your health as probiotics.
While probiotics are beneficial live organisms found in foods that you consume, such as the lactobacillus bacteria found in yogurt, prebiotics is the foods that help probiotics thrive inside your body.
Prebiotics and the Gut Microbiome
Dietary prebiotics are actually the non-digestible fiber compounds that pass undigested through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract and help stimulate the growth or activity of beneficial bacteria that colonize the large bowel by acting as a substrate for them. They were first identified and named by Marcel Roberfroid in 1995. Since then, the definition of prebiotic has evolved over the years.
Known as the gut microbiome, trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material resides in our intestinal tract. Most of them are bacteria that play a very important role in digestion, absorption, and metabolism of the food in our body. They not only affect the gastrointestinal tract but also other distant organs with its beneficial activity.
Prebiotic foods are high in special fibers like fructooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides that support the digestive health in our body by promoting the growth of these beneficial bacteria. They also release short-chain fatty acids in the process of fermentation which helps maintain the intestinal cell barrier, reduce inflammation, regulate appetite and balances glucose levels. As a group, they are linked to reducing gastrointestinal disorders, colon cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
Knowing these prebiotic foods and making an honest effort to incorporate them into our regular diet will ensure our good gut health and healthy life.
The Top 25 Prebiotic Foods for Gut-Health
Prebiotics naturally exist in different dietary fiber in food products, including asparagus, garlic, onion, honey, banana, barley, tomato, peas, beans, etc. Recently, it has been noted that seaweeds and microalgae also have prebiotic properties.
Many of the well-known sources of prebiotics are suitable for all, including vegans. Here are 25 such foods including seeds, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes.
Asparagus, or garden asparagus, and is a part of Asparagaceae family. It is a low-calorie vegetable that is rich in essential nutrients like folate, iron, copper, calcium, vitamin A, C, K, B6, and E.
It is a very good source of dietary fiber comprising 1.8 grams per 90 grams of cooked asparagus. The prebiotic nature of these fibers in asparagus promotes the friendly gut bacteria and helps cure inflammation.
Asparagus has both insoluble and soluble fibers. The insoluble fiber helps in regular bowel movement and the soluble fiber that promotes good bacteria like Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus. It is very rich in antioxidants and has been seen to be particularly effective in liver cancer prevention.
Summary: Asparagus is a spring vegetable packed with essential nutrients and is great for digestive health. It feeds the helpful bacteria and is considered to have a positive role in certain cancer prevention.
The chicory plant belongs to the dandelion family. It was originally grown in Europe but now it is also seen in North America, Australia, and China. In addition to being a fiber-rich source, chicory root is also used as a coffee substitute and food additive.
The chicory roots have a very high content of water-soluble fiber, inulin, that can’t be digested in the stomach and goes directly to the bowel. There it gets fermented by the gut microflora and produces short-chain fatty acids which regulates glucose, lipid, and energy metabolism in addition to having several beneficial effects on our body.
The chicory root extract has been widely used in sweeteners and gluten-free bread. It is also used as an additive in high fiber processed foods, in probiotics and digestive supplements. They are also used for their creamy texture in foods such as ice cream and yogurt.
Summary: Chicory root is used as a coffee substitute and its high fiber promotes the growth of bacteria thereby reducing constipation and other digestive problems.
Garlic comes from the onion genus, Allium. The essential oil in garlic has an organosulfur compound called allicin that is known to have antimicrobial and antiviral properties that help to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. The sulfur compounds of garlic like diallyl disulfide and s-allyl cysteine have a hypoglycemic effect on the body.
In a 2018 study, it was found that garlic may also improve the microbial environment of the gastrointestinal tract by stimulating beneficial bacteria. Garlic is a prebiotic food and promotes the growth of beneficial Bifidobacteria in the gut.
The fiber in garlic is 11 percent inulin and 6 percent fructooligosaccharide (FOS). after consumption, they move to the intestine and stimulate the production of gut microflora. Garlic contains 2.1 g of fiber and 1.235 mg of vitamin B6.
Summary: Garlic provides a dual benefit by promoting the good bacteria and preventing the harmful bacteria in our gut. It is packed with antioxidants and its unique flavor makes it a key ingredient in most of the food.
4. Jerusalem Artichokes
The Jerusalem artichoke is a tuber that contains about 2 percent of protein, no oil and very little starch.it is rich in niacin, thiamine and Vitamin C. It is also rich in prebiotic carbohydrate inulin, which is the food source of probiotics in the intestine.
Its inulin content is about 8-13 percent. Tubers that are stored for a prolonged period of time convert their inulin into its component fructose. Jerusalem artichokes have a sweet taste because of this fructose and it is much sweeter than sucrose.
Summary: The high inulin content in Jerusalem artichokes is prebiotic in nature and promotes the growth of good bacteria in our gut.
Onion is a vegetable of the genus Allium. It is related to garlic, shallot, leek, chive, and Chinese onion. Onions are high in Vitamin C, calcium, iron and folic acid. They are low in sodium and have no fat content. Quercetin, a flavonoid is responsible for its antioxidant properties.
Since most of these flavonoids are in the outermost layer of the onions, it is better not to over peel them. Onions are a very good natural source of inulin that helps our body to produce colon protecting butyrate.
Onions enhance heart health by lowering triglycerides and LDL cholesterol in our body. About 8.6 percent of the fiber found in onions is made of inulin with compounds that help to break down fats and enhances the growth of the gut microbiome.
Raw onions contain the mineral chromium which boosts insulin production. Cooked onion is also a high prebiotic food with 5 percent fiber.
Summary: Both uncooked and cooked onion has a very high amount of inulin that helps in the growth of good bacteria. It is also packed with natural antioxidants making it a must-eat vegetable.
Leek is another member of the onion family that boosts the prebiotic intake in our food. They are a rich source of Vitamin A, K, C, and Vitamin B-6. They are high in iron and manganese.
Around 10-12 grams of carbohydrates are found in a medium-sized leek. In that, 3 grams is sugar and rest is a complex carbohydrate, both slowly digestible and nondigestible carbohydrates. These fibers aid digestion and have been seen to be protective against some cancers.
With their unique combination of flavonoids and sulfur-containing nutrients, leek should belong in our diet on a regular basis. Leek is high in flavonoids that help to reduce oxidative stress in the body. It contains a high amount of Vitamin K. A 100 gm of a serving of leek gives us around 52 percent of this vitamin that maintains our heart and bones.
Summary: Leek is high in antioxidants that help reduce oxidative stress in the body. They are also high in prebiotic inulin fiber and Vitamin K.
7. Savoy Cabbages
Savoy cabbage comes from the species Brassica oleracea. They are mild in flavor and have wrinkly leaves. Savoy cabbage is high in antioxidant property and packed with high fiber and trace elements.
It is rich in Vitamin B and C and is an excellent source of natural prebiotics. Savoy cabbage has around 3.1 percent fiber.
A good source of calcium which is important for bone health and regulating arterial blood pressure. The potassium available in it may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Summary: Savoy cabbage is a unique combination of taste and high fiber that promotes gut health.it is also a very good source of Vitamin B and C.
8. Dandelion Roots
Dandelion greens are excellent sources of prebiotics, fiber, and antioxidants. They boost digestion, reduce inflammation, improve immunity and have been seen to lower blood cholesterol levels.
They are a very good source of Vitamin A, C, and K. They also contain folate, vitamin E and certain B vitamins. Dandelion greens provide a good amount of minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Dandelion green is rich in prebiotic carbohydrate inulin. Dandelion greens can be consumed in its raw whole form. They can be dried and consumed as a tea as well.
Summary: Dandelion greens can be consumed raw or dried and provide an excellent source of prebiotic carbohydrate that boosts gut microflora.
9. Konjac Roots
Konjac root is also known as elephant yam, is a tuber and has numerous health benefits. It contains 40 percent of glucomannan fiber, which is a highly viscous dietary fiber.
Konjac glucomannan facilitates the growth of beneficial gut bacteria in the colon, making it an excellent source of prebiotic. It increases the production of butyric acid in the colon that has tremendous health benefits. It relieves constipation and boosts our immune system. It improves the carbohydrate metabolism of our body, lowers blood cholesterol and helps with weight loss.
Foods that are made from konjac root like the shirataki noodles can be consumed. Glucomannan supplements can be taken as well.
Summary: Konjac root has glucomannan fiber which is highly viscous dietary fiber promoting gut health.
10. Jicama Roots
Jicama is a starchy root vegetable that looks very similar to a potato or turnip. Originally from Mexico, this tuberous root tastes slightly sweet, but it is low in sugar. This unique property makes it a good carbohydrate choice for people with diabetes and those who follow a low-sugar diet.
Jicama is a good source of fiber. 1 serving or 130-gram of raw jicama contains 6.4 grams of dietary fiber. Jicama is rich in inulin which is a prebiotic fiber. It is also an excellent source of vitamin C. Jicama roots are safe to eat both cook and raw.
Summary: Jicama root is high in fiber and water and low in sugar making it a great choice in a low sugar diet and people suffering from diabetes.
11. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potato is very high in beta carotene, B -vitamins and minerals. A medium-sized boiled sweet potato has 3.8 grams of fiber.
Studies have found that fibers in the purple sweet potatoes do promote the growth of healthy bacteria Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus species.
Summary: Sweet potatoes are highly nutritious tubers and are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They have cancer-fighting properties and enhances brain function.
Chickpeas are an excellent replacement for meat in a vegetarian diet because of its high protein content. They are a type of legume in the same family as kidney beans and peanuts. They are also known as garbanzo beans.
Chickpeas are known to have a prebiotic fiber called resistant starch. This resistant starch travels to the large intestine, where the beneficial bacteria digest it promoting colon health.
It also helps to control blood sugar levels and lower blood cholesterol. Including chickpeas in the diet can be a great protein alternative.
Summary: Chickpeas are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and fibers that improve digestion and aid in weight management.
Lentils are edible legumes that come in various colors and shapes. They look like tiny beans and they are variable in many colors such as red, brown, green and black.
They’ve been used in cooking for centuries and are thought to have originated in the Near East but now they are used as an integral part of cuisines all over the world.
Lentils have a high protein content. Lentils are rich in fiber and work as a prebiotic food. They contain both soluble and insoluble fiber.
Summary: Lentils are low in calories, rich in folate and iron, an excellent source of protein and high in prebiotic carbohydrate promoting good health
14. Red Kidney Beans and Soybeans
Beans are the seed of the plant family Fabaceae, which are used for human and animal food. There are multiple varieties of beans ranging from soybeans to red kidney beans and lima beans.
Beans contain fibers called oligosaccharides that stimulate growth and promote the activity of the gastrointestinal microbiome. They are a very good source of fermentable fibers.
Though all types of beans are rich in protein, only soybeans have all nine essential amino acids making it a complete protein source. Beans are an excellent addition to vegan and vegetarian diets to ensure they meet their daily protein and fiber requirements.
Summary: Beans are an affordable source of protein, iron, and vitamins and packed with fiber which has many health benefits.
Banana is an edible fruit that is botanically a berry. It belongs to the genus Musa. Bananas are high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals and are available all year round.
Slightly unripe bananas have particularly powerful prebiotic effects. They increase good gut bacteria, reduce bloating and improve muscle relaxation.
A slightly green, medium-sized banana has 12.5 grams of resistant starch and a ripe banana has almost 5 grams. This resistant starch is a natural appetite suppressant and is used in the treatment of constipation.
Summary: Banana is a great source of Vitamin C, manganese and potassium which is good for our heart. Slightly unripe bananas have more powerful prebiotic effects than ripe ones.
16. Custard Apple
Custard apple is a fruit grown all over the world. It is a storehouse of Vitamin C which works as an antioxidant. It is a modest source of vitamin B-complex, especially Vitamin B-6. It also has a good amount of Vitamin A.
Custard apples also contain several polyphenolic antioxidants like asimicin and annonacin which have been found to have anti-malarial, anti-cancer and de-worming properties.
Minerals like magnesium, potassium, and copper are present in custard apples. It is a rich source of dietary fiber. It is around 4.4 grams per 100 grams of fruit. This fiber has prebiotic properties and feeds the gut microflora.
Summary: Custard apple has a high amount of antioxidants like Vitamin C. it is rich in potassium and magnesium. It has a positive influence on regulating blood pressure. The prebiotic dietary fiber in it relieves constipation.
Watermelon is another fruit that is rich in prebiotic carbohydrates. Its fiber content is made up of fructooligosaccharides which helps the good bacteria in the gut to thrive.
As the water content of watermelon is high, it is perfect for keeping the body hydrated. It has 92% of water content. In addition to that, it contains cancer-preventing compounds. A cup of watermelon has just 46 calories but it is high in vitamins and healthy plant compounds.
Watermelon has Vitamin C, carotenoids, lycopene and cucurbitacin E making it an excellent prebiotic choice. It is beneficial in lowering oxidative stress and inflammation. It also helps relieve muscle soreness and improves heart health.
The lycopene is a carotenoid that does not get converted into vitamin A. WIth potent antioxidant properties, lycopene is also responsible for the red color in watermelon. The plant compound Cucurbitacin E in watermelon has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Summary: The prebiotic fructooligosaccharides in watermelon and the high amount of water in it are both important for healthy digestion.
Grapefruit is one of the lowest calories fruits that is also quite high in nutrients. It is a tropical fruit that is sweet and a little sour in taste. With 15 different vitamins and minerals as well as fiber and antioxidants, it is one of the healthiest fruits in the market.
The high fiber content of grapefruit makes it beneficial for gut health. It is a very good source of soluble fiber, pectin and Vitamins A and C. It has potassium and magnesium along with folates and thiamine.
Grapefruit intake is strongly linked with weight loss due to its rich fiber content. Grapefruit also has a high percentage of water content which also promotes weight loss. A 2006 study, using 91 obese subjects, noted that those who consumed half a grapefruit before their meals lost more weight than those who did not. Their insulin resistance also improved.
Summary: Low in calories and yet high in nutrients, this fiber-rich fruit is one of the healthiest citrus fruit that can be consumed.
19. Wheat Bran
Highly nutritious, wheat bran is an excellent source of fiber that also serves as a prebiotic.
Wheat bran is one of three layers of the wheat kernel. It’s stripped away during the milling process, and it is nothing more than a byproduct. Scientists have researched and confirmed that wheat bran contains a special prebiotic fiber called arabinoxylan oligosaccharides which boosts Bifidobacteria in the gut microbiome.
A 2012 study from the University of Reading gave 30 healthy adult subject bread which was enriched with arabinoxylan oligosaccharides or placebo. It was found that both lactobacilli and bifidobacteria were significantly increased in subjects given bread enriched with arabinoxylan.
Summary: The high amount of fiber in wheat bran not only benefits digestive and heart health but also can reduce breast and colon cancer risk.
Barley is a cereal grain that helps promote weight loss, regulates cholesterol levels, improves digestion and even has beneficial effects on heart health. Barley has antioxidants known as lignans which help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer.
It is grown in temperate climates all over the world. It contains 3-8 grams of a fiber called beta-glucan per 100 gram. This beta-glucan is a prebiotic fiber and it promotes the growth of good bacteria in the intestine.
Beta-glucan partially dissolves in water and forms a thick, gel-like solution in the gut. Beta-glucan has a lot of health benefits. It reduces the total cholesterol and LDL level, reduces blood sugar and insulin response and promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut.
But barley has antinutrients, just like other whole grains, and these interfere with digestion and impair nutrient absorption. Soaking these grains and allowing them to sprout before using them in food preparations make them easier to digest. The sprouting multiplies its nutrient value and also improves the bioavailability of nutrients.
Summary: Barley is high in soluble fiber, beta-glucan which is beneficial for good health. Barley reduces blood pressure, reduces cholesterol and assists in blood glucose control.
Oats are gluten-free foods that offer an incredible range of nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It’s quite high in fiber content as well. Just half a cup of dry oats provides almost 40% of your daily thiamine (vitamin B1) requirements. This is a very mineral-rich food that has manganese, phosphorous, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc.
Oat is a cereal commonly eaten in the form of oatmeal or rolled oats. They are an incredibly nutritious food that can lower cholesterol levels, can improve blood glucose control and are very rich in antioxidants. Oats contain plenty of beta-glucan, a soluble fiber that helps promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.
Avenanthramides is a unique group of antioxidants found in oats that lowers blood pressure by raising nitric oxide production in the body. They increase blood circulation by dilating blood vessels. Ferulic acid is another antioxidant found in oats
Summary: A form of soluble dietary fiber, beta-glucan is linked to reducing cholesterol and improving heart health. The beta-glucan content in oats works as prebiotic to help promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
Almonds are a very good source of Vitamin E, riboflavin, calcium and niacin. It also has a good amount of copper and phosphorus. An ounce of almonds offers 37% of your daily vitamin E requirements along with 32% of manganese and 20% magnesium.
Almonds are very high in protein and fiber. They contain 12.5 g of fiber per 100 g. These fibers are prebiotic in nature and promote good bacteria. The high amount of protein and fiber increases the feeling of fullness making it a good food in weight reduction management.
Almonds are loaded with antioxidants that protect us from inflammation and the harmful effects of oxidative stress. But most of these antioxidants are concentrated in the brown skin of the almonds making it a bad idea to use balanced, peeled almonds.
Almonds do contain phytic acids that reduce its nutrient absorption, so soaking the nut is vital to increase its bioavailability. Just remember to eat it with its lovely brown skin.
Summary: Almonds are rich in fiber as well as protein. They have antioxidants and nutrients such as vitamin E, riboflavin, calcium copper phosphorus, and niacin.
23. Pistachio Nuts
Pistachios have prebiotic characteristics. They contain non-digestible food components like dietary fiber, which remain and ferment in the gut and serve as food for the good gut bacteria.
Pistachio nuts are loaded with potassium, phosphorus, vitamin B 6, thiamine, copper and manganese that are important for several body functions. Pistachios also have phytochemicals that have the potential to modify microbiota composition.
Summary: Pistachio nuts have high fiber content and phytochemicals, both of which promote good gut health.
Grown from the beginning of civilization, flax seeds are one of the oldest crops. There are two kinds of flaxseed, brown and golden. Both of them are considered very nutritious. One tablespoon provides a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids, fibers, and protein. It is also a rich source of vitamins and minerals.
Flaxseed contains both types of dietary fibers. Soluble fiber (20-40%) and insoluble fiber (60-80%). Both the soluble and insoluble fibers get fermented in the intestine and promote the gut microbiome.
Summary: High in omega-3-fatty acids and rich in vitamins and minerals, this fiber-rich are considered as superfoods and should be included in a diet.
Coconut is high in dietary fiber and can be compared with fiber-rich psyllium, wheat bran, oat bran, and rice bran for its property. Coconut has 61 percent of dietary fiber. It contains two types of carbohydrates – digestible and non-digestible.
Digestible carbohydrates (soluble fiber) and non-digestible carbohydrates (insoluble fiber) upon fermentation, produces substances such as butyrate which has been found to have positive effects on cellular proliferation, protein synthesis, etc.
Since the body cannot digest the dietary fiber in coconut, no calories are derived from it and it has no effect on blood sugar. On top of that, these fibers act as prebiotics and promote the growth of good bacteria.
Summary: Coconut is high in both soluble and insoluble fiber which makes it an effective prebiotic for promoting beneficial gut bacteria growth.
The Final Note on Prebiotic Foods
Prebiotics has several health benefits because of their calorie-free nature. They also act as an artificial sweetener because of their mildly sweet taste. They are non-carcinogenic. Prebiotics enhances and strengthens the immune system, increases the absorption of calcium and magnesium in the body resulting in strong bones.
The fibrous content as well as its impact on gut bacteria improve bowel regularity and reduces inflammation of the colon wall. Not only does it reduce the inflammation in the colon walls but it also reduces smelly flatus. Due to healthy gut hormonal changes, there is a better-controlled weight and appetite.
An increase in good bacteria and a concomitant decrease in bad bacteria regulate gut health. Prebiotics also have the ability to reduce blood triglyceride levels and improve our circulatory system. Incorporating the right amount of prebiotic foods, in our diet, ensures good health and better survival.