The best prebiotics act as nutrients to help the growth of good gut bacteria, known as probiotics.
The best prebiotics for a person may differ depending on the person’s age, dietary preferences and overall health. Prebiotics typically promote the growth of beneficial bacteria (good bacteria) in the gut by acting as a food source for them.
Prebiotics are fibrous substances that are not digestible (mostly fermentable carbohydrates). Because people are unable to digest these carbohydrates, they pass into the lower digestive tract and serve as a food source for healthy bacteria, acting as nutrients to help them grow. So, with the proper amount of prebiotics in the body, people can optimize the work of the good bacteria that promotes gut health.
The following are examples of common prebiotics:
- Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)
- Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS)
- Resistant starches
- Pectic oligosaccharides (POS)
- Non-carbohydrate oligosaccharides
- Some fatty acids
Best food sources for prebiotics
- Onions are high in prebiotics, which ranges from inulin to fructans.
- These prebiotics benefits the gut and also have antioxidant properties that aid in mineral absorption by lowering blood cholesterol levels.
- Garlic contains vitamins B and C and several minerals, as well as prebiotic fibers, such as inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides.
- Garlic’s prebiotic fibers have been linked to an increase of good bacteria in the gut, anti-inflammatory effects and cancer-fighting agents and reduced digestive discomfort.
- Underripe bananas
- Inulin is the main prebiotic fiber found in Jerusalem artichokes, which have been found to improve the gut microbiome and digestion.
- Chicory root
- Legumes have been linked to improved digestion, healthy bacterial growth in the gut and anti-inflammatory effects in studies.
Other common sources include:
- Vegetables and fruit
- Jicama (root vegetable)
- Red kidney beans
- Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, buttermilk and kefir
- Heated milk (at least 149 °F)
- Breast milk
- Nuts: Almonds and almond skins
- Roots: Dandelion root
Foods that prebiotics may be added to:
- Bread and pasta
- Baked goods
- Dressings and sauces
- Snack bars
The term inulin or chicory root appears in the ingredient list of many of these items, indicating the presence of the prebiotic component.
Other sources of prebiotics
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are good bacteria that can benefit overall health if consumed regularly and in the appropriate amounts. Probiotics can provide a variety of health benefits, ranging from immune support to digestive health.
Probiotics are not naturally found in foods, but some foods are manufactured with live bacteria as part of the manufacturing process. Here are a few examples:
- Apple cider vinegar
- Sour pickles
- Sourdough bread
Probiotics are occasionally added to yogurt or infant formula, and they are also available as supplements.
Do you need both probiotics and prebiotics in your diet?
Yes. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are introduced into the gut to help it grow and thrive. Prebiotics are basically food for these beneficial bacteria. The probiotic bacteria that are already present in the body are nourished and stimulated by them.
The combination of probiotics and prebiotics works synergistically to improve gut and overall health. According to some studies, adding prebiotics to probiotics improves their viability. Always consume prebiotic fiber-rich foods in addition to probiotics. A well-balanced diet rich in prebiotic foods, probiotic foods and other gut-healing, microbiome-balancing herbs, spices, teas and foods is always recommended to help keep the gut microbiome diversity and richness scales more ideal.
Both prebiotics and probiotics have a place in the consumer diet. Though probiotics are more commonly known by most people, experts are starting to realize that prebiotics may also have a variety of benefits that supplement gut health in unique and powerful ways.
Medically Reviewed on 8/25/2021
Mayo Clinic. Prebiotics, Probiotics and Your Health. https://www.mayoclinic.org/prebiotics-probiotics-and-your-health/art-20390058
Klemm S. Prebiotics and Probiotics: Creating a Healthier You. EatRight. https://www.eatright.org/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/prebiotics-and-probiotics-creating-a-healthier-you