Many of us know about probiotics, but what about prebiotics? Have you been missing out on these health-boosting foods? Below you’ll find 20 delicious prebiotic foods to include in your weekly meal prep to support your wellness and digestion.
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics refer to specific compounds within the foods we eat and are thought to feed the "good" bacteria in our gut and exhibit health effects supported by scientific evidence (1,2).
Prebiotics, along with probiotics, are thought to help cultivate balance in our gut microbiome and support whole-body wellness.
Prebiotics often get confused with Probiotics, but they are actually different things:
- Prebiotics are non-digestible compounds within our food that feed healthy gut bacteria
- Probiotics are living micro-organisms found in fermented foods like yogurt that help us digest our food and have a wide variety of effects on the body (3)
Long story short, prebiotic foods help feed the probiotic microorganisms thought to be beneficial to our health.
There are many types of prebiotics, but the majority of them are from foods containing higher amounts of certain carbohydrates such as oligosaccharides, polysaccharides, and dietary fibers (1,4).
How Might Prebiotics Support a Healthy Gut?
Our gut microbiome plays a big role in our overall health and well-being as our gut health affects all of our body's natural processes.
Our microbiome is composed of various microorganisms that live in our gastrointestinal tract and help control our digestion, oversee our immune system, communicate with our brains, process and produce nutrients and affect many other aspects of our health (5).
When our gut health is compromised from things like imbalances in our diet and lifestyle we increase our risk for developing a variety of health issues.
Alterations in our gut microbiome have been linked to numerous systemic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, auto-immune conditions, and intestinal conditions like Irritable Bowel Syndrome (5).
So how do we help support healthy digestion and a gut microbiome?
We can start by becoming more mindful about what we eat, and feed the healthy gut bacteria by incorporating prebiotic foods and creating a meal prep plan that serves our health.
When ingested, prebiotics pass through your intestines where they are fermented and produce essential nutrients including short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, acetate, and propionate which nourish your digestive system by servings as food for the beneficial microorganisms.
Prebiotics help protect our gastrointestinal system, central nervous system, immune system, and cardiovascular system, and increasing the number of prebiotic-containing foods in your diet you may help with (1,2):
- Regulating blood sugar levels
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Reducing blood lipids
- Supporting healthy intestinal motility
- Feeding beneficial gut bacteria
Taking time to address and regulate our gut health may improve every area of our health from digestion to our ability to reduce our risk for disease (5, 6)
What Foods Are High In Prebiotics?
There are no set guidelines or rules determining what it means to be "high in prebiotics" as no clear regulations have been established yet by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for classifying or labeling prebiotic foods (4,6).
All plants contain prebiotics in small amounts, although science suggests a few such as onions, garlic, bananas, chicory root, and Jerusalem artichoke may contain higher concentrations of specific kinds (6,7).
Prebiotics can also be added to foods such as yogurts, cereals, bread, biscuits, and drinks, but may not be labeled "prebiotic". To check if a product contains prebiotics look at the ingredient list for (2):
- Galcto-oligosaccharides (GOS)
- Fruto-oligosaccharides (FOS)
- Oligofructose (OF)
- Chicory fiber
If you're looking to reap the benefits of consuming foods high in prebiotics' don't stress too much about the "amount" within the foods, but rather look at your food quality and quantity.
Prebiotics vs Fiber
Most Dieticians will recommend increasing your intake of dietary fiber as a simple way to increase your intake of prebiotics.
There is some truth to this as most prebiotics are dietary fibers, but not all dietary fibers are prebiotics, so it's hard to say if high-fiber foods also mean they are high in prebiotics (6,7).
This makes it a little tricky when trying to navigate nutrition claims on food products. Just remember to check the label if you're purchasing a pre-packaged food product for any of the prebiotic ingredients we listed above.
At the end of the day, naturally fibrous foods tend to be nutrient-dense, and ingesting higher amounts of them have been linked to various health benefits including improved digestion and blood sugar control (8,9).
The best strategy for increasing your intake of natural prebiotics is to focus on building a meal plan with plenty of whole foods including fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
20 Prebiotic Foods For Better Digestive Health
These foods contain varying amounts and forms of prebiotics; use the chart below for quick reference when heading to the grocery store or planning your meal prep for the week.
|Vegetables||Mushrooms, Jerusalem Artichokes, Chicory, Garlic, Leek, Onions, Spring Onion, Asparagus, Beetroot, Fennel, Green Peas, Snow Peas, Cabbage, Dandelion Greens, Burdock, Eggplant, Endive, JIcama, Konjac, Radicchio, Yacon|
|Legumes||Chickpeas, Lentils, Red Kidney Beans, Baked Beans|
|Fruit||Nectarines, White Peaches, Persimmons, Watermelon, Grapefruit, Pomegranate, Dried Fruit (like dates or figs), Apples, Bananas,|
|Whole Grains and Other Products||Barley, Rye, Wheat (pasta, bread, etc), Oats, Wheat Bran, Couscous, Cocoa, Flaxseed|
All of the above foods are thought to be contain beneficial prebiotics, we've highlighted a few notable prebiotic foods below and their potential health benefits.
At the end of the day eating a diverse and healthy diet with a range of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and other fiber-rich foods can help you establish better digestive health and overall health.
Most varieties of edible mushrooms are rich in carbohydrates like chitin, beta and alpha glucans, and other compounds that act as prebiotics (10).
Not only do mushrooms contain prebiotics, but they also contain essential amino acids, as well as minerals, such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc which play a role in supporting our energy production and immune system (10).
Try out a portobello mushroom in lieu of a burger patty or add in some chopped mushrooms to a simple stir fry recipe to get more nutritious fungi into your diet.
Asparagus is a great non-starchy vegetable to add to your weekly meal prep as you can roast it quickly or saute it up with other veggies.
Most vegetables rich in prebiotics contain inulin, a soluble dietary fiber that stimulates healthy gut bacteria like Bifidobacteria (11).
Studies suggest that Bifidobacteria may aid digestion, modulate the immune system and help restore microbial integrity of the gut microbiota after antibiotic treatment (11).
For those of us who have been to a beach, this may come as a surprise but those weird clumps of sea plants washed up on shore are actually edible, and believe it or not, they are extremely nutrient-dense.
Seaweed is a classification for nutrient-dense marine algae and is becoming more popular in Western diets due to its wide range of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
Seaweed contains both soluble and insoluble dietary fiber, along with higher concentrations of vitamins A, B1, B12, C, D, and E (12).
Various types of edible seaweed include:
4. Jerusalem Artichokes
Jerusalem artichokes often called "sunchokes" are the tuberous root vegetables from a special species of sunflower native to central North America.
Jerusalem artichokes contain multiple prebiotic compounds such as inulin and oligofructose along with minerals such as potassium. The specific prebiotics within Jerusalem artichokes support balanced gut health by stimulating healthy bacteria which may enhance absorption of important minerals like calcium and magnesium (13).
These tasty tubers taste great roasted in the oven with a bit of salt and lemon and paired with a nut pesto recipe. Or try them out steamed, sauteed, or boiled!
5-7. Chickpeas, Lentils, and Kidney Beans
Legume varieties are rich in protein, prebiotic carbohydrates, and a range of micronutrients making them a great choice for gut health and overall health and wellbeing.
Incorporating more legumes containing prebiotic carbohydrates can positively alter the gut microbiome, helping regulate intestinal movement, increase mineral absorption, and reduce obesity risk by regulating blood glucose and cholesterol levels (14).
Try preparing a homemade black bean burger or a vegetarian chili to increase your intake of legumes.
8. Chicory Root
Chicory is a woody, perennial plant from the daisy and sunflower family typically with bright blue flowers.
The root is cultivated and is commonly baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute or fiber additive due to its high concentration of inulin, one of the prebiotic compounds in chicory.
Along with beneficial prebiotic compounds, chicory root has other minerals such as potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium, and zinc (15).
The fresh roots have a bitter taste but drinking chicory root coffee or using it as a functional food ingredient when baking or making protein shakes helps most adjust to the flavor.
9-12. Onions, Leeks, Garlic, and Spring Garlic
Onions, leeks, garlic, and spring onion are all vegetables of the Allium family all of which contain prebiotic compounds such as flavonoids shown to positively influence our gut microbiota and support immune function and metabolism (16).
All of these delicious alliums are extremely versatile in the kitchen; add them to soups, salads, or stir-fries!
13-15. Nectarines, Watermelon, and Blueberries
Most fruits are nutrient-dense sources of dietary fiber, potassium. antioxidants, carotenoids and are low-calorie (17). Studies have found that blueberries, pears, watermelons, and nectarines contain slightly higher amounts of prebiotic compounds (17).
Fruits are higher in insoluble fiber, which benefits our digestion by supporting intestinal mobility and promoting the colonization of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria (16). This also includes dried fruits such as dried figs and prunes.
16-17. Oats and Barley
Oats and barley contain the highest amount of the prebiotic, beta-glucan.
Science suggests that whole grains containing beta-glucan may help lower LDL-cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels, and encourage the growth of beneficial gut bacteria (7).
You can easily incorporate more oats into your meal plan by enjoying some overnight oats for breakfast!
18. Dandelion Greens
These underutilized greens grow wild almost EVERYWHERE and have a tangy but bitter taste. Normally you’ll find them hanging around other green lettuces in the grocery store.
These greens and many other dark-leafy greens house a ton of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium. phosphorus, calcium, vitamin C, and K (17).
You can use dandelion greens in a variety of ways, my favorite is making them into a delicious pesto but you can also: smoothie, green juice, salads, stir-fry.
19. Cocoa Powder
You might have heard the rumor about chocolate is healthy, this is partially true. Small amounts of dark chocolate may give you a health boost but eating more than sparing amounts could lead to high calorie and sugar consumption causing unwanted weight gain and high glucose levels (18).
Pure chocolate, or cocoa, contains antioxidants that act as free radicals in the body and help fight the effects of oxidative stress (19). Cocao also contains prebiotic fibers, and like all the other prebiotic foods, helps feed the good bacteria in our gut (19).
20. Jicama Root
You may have passed this Mexican root tuber a few times in the grocery store without even noticing it.
This delicious and crunchy root vegetable has a light brown exterior and pale white interior with a texture similar to enjoying an apple. Jicama is a great low-carb option and high in prebiotic inulin.
You can roast it, saute it, or find it sliced thinly to use as a taco shell!
Tips for Healthy Digestion
A diet rich in whole foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables is bound to be rich in prebiotics which may benefit your gut and digestive health in the long run.
Drink plenty of water
Water plays multiple roles in the body including supporting digestion, nutrient absorption, and your ability to burn fat for energy (19). In fact, without water, your body cannot properly metabolize fat and carbohydrates.
Being even mildly dehydrated can negatively impact gut function, brain function, mood, heart health, and energy levels (20). And while you can get water from food and other beverages, there is no better source than water itself.
Learn how much water you need to drink each day with this simple water intake calculator.
Start Meal Prepping
Starting a meal prep plan is beneficial to help you track, plan, and eat a constant diet.
There is no better way to increase the number of prebiotic fruits and vegetables in your diet than to start meal prepping your food. When done correctly, meal prep can completely transform your health, even if you only choose to meal prep one meal a day or a few days a week.
Trying to increase your intake of vegetables and get variety can be a challenge. Let us do all the cooking, cleaning, and meal prepping for you while.
Pick a meal plan that meets your food preferences, or save money. Getting the bulk of your nutrition and macros covered also means there’s less stress when it comes to sticking to your diet.