You’ve probably heard of probiotics—the beneficial bacteria found in fermented foods that help regulate your digestive system and promote gut health. But what about prebiotics? Prebiotics are indigestible compounds that function as food for probiotics. Probiotics need them in order to thrive. So it’s important to include prebiotic-rich foods in your diet in addition to probiotic-rich ones.
Since prebiotics can’t be digested, they travel to the colon, where they are fermented. This process produces short-chain fatty acids, compounds that play an important role in promoting the health of the digestive and immune systems. Short-chain fatty acids can have a protective effect against diabetes, colon cancer, and gastrointestinal diseases.
Prebiotics are found in many fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Without further ado, here is a list of ten foods high in prebiotics that you should consider adding to your diet.
1) Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are a great source of prebiotics. One study found that postmenopausal women who consumed flax seeds experienced improved insulin sensitivity and gut health. Flax seeds have a long shelf life and can be mixed in with beverages or baked goods. In addition to being rich in prebiotics, they are also high in omega-3s and protein.
Artichokes contain both prebiotics and probiotics. They also contain vitamins and minerals like calcium, potassium, folate, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Artichoke leaf extracts have been used in traditional medicine due to their nutritional properties.
Leeks are a nutrient-dense vegetable rich in prebiotic fiber and vitamin K. They are also rich in flavonoids, which have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. They are most nutritious when eaten raw. Raw leeks are delicious when combined with grilled cheese. They can also be used in salad.
Okra is a flowering plant with edible green seed pods that is a rich source of nutrients, including prebiotic fiber. Okra has been shown to reduce hyperglycemic levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. Like leeks, okra is also rich in flavonoids and has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
5) Chicory Root
Chicory root, which comes from a flowering plant, has long been used as a form of medicine. It has a high concentration of prebiotic fiber. It has been shown to have beneficial effects on blood pressure and liver function. It has a coffee-like flavor, so if you’re a coffee drinker, consider ditching the coffee for the caffeine-free chicory root.
In addition to tasting great, garlic is also rich in prebiotic fiber and has many health benefits. It has antioxidant effects, reduces blood pressure and cholesterol, and is good for heart health. Note that garlic loses some of its nutritional value when cooked. It should also be consumed within an hour of being crushed or minced. Raw garlic pairs well with salsa, pesto, and butter.
Asparagus is a nutrient-dense and prebiotic-rich vegetable chocked with vitamins and minerals. It also contains asparagine, which aids in protein synthesis and is good for your brain. Like garlic and leeks, it is most nutritious when eaten raw. Raw asparagus works well in salad.
Seaweed is an underrated source of nutrients, including prebiotic fiber. It contains compounds that can protect against “obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and some cancers.” Seaweed is a versatile ingredient that can be combined with many other foods. Many Japanese dishes contain seaweed.
You will probably be pleased to learn that cocoa, the main ingredient of chocolate, is a good source of prebiotics. (Cacao generally refers to the raw bean, and cocoa the powdered form. But some brands use “cacao” to refer to powder made from minimally processed beans.) Cocoa has many health benefits, including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Avoid cocoa products that contain added sugars, and instead opt for organic, sugar-free powder. Dark chocolate is not a bad option either, but unsweetened cocoa powder has even more fiber than dark chocolate. Cocoa powder can used in shakes, oatmeal, yogurt, and other dishes.
10) Dandelion Greens
Dandelion greens, or the leaves of dandelion plants, are chock-full of prebiotics. They also contain more than 500% of the daily value of vitamin K as well as high amounts of vitamin A and C. They have many health benefits: for example, dandelion greens can be used for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes. Dandelions are known for their bitter taste, but combining them with fatty ingredients (such olive oil) can reduce their bitterness.
If your diet is rich in prebiotic-rich foods, you will not need to consume prebiotic supplements. Consuming too much prebiotic fiber can cause nausea, so you should avoid supplements if you are already eating prebiotic-rich foods.
However, if you do not have sufficient access to prebiotic-rich foods, then prebiotic supplements are an option. There are some good prebiotic supplements on the market, such as BioSchwartz’s Advanced Prebiotic and Zenwise’s Daily Digestive Enzymes with Prebiotics & Probiotics.
The side effects of prebiotic supplements are minimal. You may experience mild bloating and discomfort as your digestive system adjusts to your new intake of prebiotics, but this also applies to prebiotics in food.
Consuming prebiotic-rich foods has many benefits and is great for your overall health. Prebiotics improve digestion and regulate bowel movement, regulate blood sugar, promote weight loss, lower inflammation, strengthen the immune system, lower the risk of heart disease, and more.
If you are pregnant or the mother of an infant, breastfeeding is a great way to provide your child with prebiotics. Breast milk contains oligosaccharides, which strengthen a child’s immune system and promote healthy gut bacteria.
You may notice that the foods on the list above are high in fiber. That’s because prebiotics are a type of fiber. Note that just because a food is high in fiber doesn’t mean it will be high in prebiotics. To see whether a food contains prebiotics, look for words like “galactooligosaccharides,” “fructooligosaccharides,” “oligofructose,” “chicory fiber,” and “inulin,” as opposed to looking solely at its fiber content.
Most prebiotic-rich foods are easy to prepare and are versatile ingredients that can be used in salads, sandwiches, oatmeal, and so on. Introducing prebiotic-rich foods into your diet is a simple and effective way to spice up your meals and be more healthy.