A few years ago, the buzzword was probiotics. No one could get enough of the good bacteria that help ward off the bad bacteria and keep your gut healthy and happy. Probiotics are essential to the health of your microbiome, which is a fancy word to refer to the good bacteria that live in your gut and help you digest food. Now, the word of the day is prebiotics. However, what exactly are prebiotics? Are they just another health fad? No. Prebiotics are food for probiotics. The most common prebiotic is certain kinds of fiber that can pass more or less unchanged through the digestive tract. When it reaches the microbiome, the good bacteria chomp down on it and stay happy and healthy. If you don’t feed your microbiome what it needs, no matter how many probiotics you consume, those bacteria just will not stay alive.
Eating a diet rich in prebiotics is essential to maintaining the health of your microbiome. This article contains a list of foods that are particularly high in prebiotics, and you should not be surprised that they are all plants (except for mushrooms, which are a fungus, not a plant). Eating less meat and animal-based foods and more plants is a surefire way to boost the health of your microbiome and keep your whole self at optimal health.
Almonds are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants are the agents that neutralize free radicals, which zip around your body and break down cells at a molecular level. They also contain fiber with prebiotic properties, meaning that it feeds the bacteria in your microbiome. You may be used to enjoying the nutritional benefit of almonds by drinking almond milk, but most of the prebiotics and antioxidants are actually in the skin. Much of the skin does not survive the process of creating almond milk, so to enjoy the health benefits of almonds, eat them whole. One ounce of whole almonds contains one-eighth of your daily protein needs. Keep reading for more ways to incorporate prebiotics into your everyday diet.
Radishes are one of the best vegetables you can eat. Nevertheless, unless you enjoy eating them raw, they can also be one of the most difficult. They are amazing for your body because they have a high fiber content with prebiotic properties and a high vitamin and mineral profile that detoxifies your organs and protects against disease. Eating them, well, there are plenty of ways to eat radishes. Some people have had success turning them into chips and eating them with dip. You can shave them into salads for a bit of a spicy crunch or cut them up to add to a smoothie. Alternatively, slice radishes thinly to put them in soups or use them as a topping for casseroles.
Broccoli is a delicious vegetable with a mild flavor that goes great with any dish. It contains so many nutrients that it functions as a multivitamin all on its own: vitamins A, B complex, C, E, and K; folic acid; magnesium; phosphorus; the list goes on and on and on. To make things even better, the fibers in broccoli have prebiotic properties, leading to a greater diversity of the microbiome and all-around improved health. The result is better weight management, better mood, better sleep, better everything, better you! You can even get better hair, skin, and nails by eating enough broccoli.
Carrots are commonly known to be powerhouses for vitamin A. However, did you know that carrots have prebiotics that helps improve the health of your microbiome? Carrots contain pectin, a type of fiber that functions as a prebiotic, and researchers found that the pectin in carrots helps boost the health of particular kinds of good bacteria found in your gut. The result is better mood, improved digestion, and all-around enhanced health. There are so many ways to enjoy carrots and get this health benefit. You can shave them into a salad, eat them with a yogurt-based dip, or cook them into stews, soups, and other recipes.
Jicama is usually grown in Mexico and is a potato-like vegetable that has a slightly sweet taste. Many Americans do not eat jicama, but they miss out on incredible prebiotics and other health benefits. One cup of jicama contains 6.4 grams of dietary fiber, much of it functioning as a prebiotic because of how it feeds the good bacteria of the microbiome. Getting enough fiber does more than help your microbiome; it also relieves constipation and reduces the risk of heart disease! In addition to fiber, jicama is very nutrient-dense relative to its number of calories. You can eat jicama raw by itself or in a salad or prepare it in several dishes.
Seaweed may not top the list of foods that Americans want to eat, but other cultures have been enjoying the health benefits of seaweed for millennia. It is rich in prebiotics because of the high level of polysaccharides. Some types of seaweed, such as nori, are very high in protein, and vegans should be extra excited about seaweed because it is a non-animal source of some B vitamins. It is one of the best sources of iodine, and it also provides a huge boost to heart health — not insignificant when one considers that heart disease is still the leading cause of death in America.
Think again if you want to limit sweet potatoes to sugary desserts on Thanksgiving and Christmas. Sweet potato fries, sweet potato soup, and baked sweet potatoes are just a few ways to enjoy this nutritious vegetable with all of the added sugar and butter in sweets like sweet potato pie. Sweet potatoes have tons of vitamin A; just one serving has nearly 800% of your daily intake! They also have high amounts of C and B vitamins, manganese, potassium, and copper. The pectin and insoluble fibers that they contain boost your gut health by promoting regular bowel movements and feeding the good bacteria in your microbiome.
The humble lentil is a nutritional powerhouse. These legumes are super cheap and full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals that you may wonder how you went so long without eating them regularly. Lentils have up to 15 grams of fiber per serving, much of it functioning as prebiotic, so they are like fertilizer for your microbiome. They are also high in folate and the trace mineral manganese. Folate is necessary for a healthy pregnancy, and manganese is a powerful antioxidant that helps reduce your risk of disease. Try eating a dish with lentils once a week. Your gut and your wallet will both thank you.
Nothing says the wonderful summer days quite like a slice of cold watermelon. Watermelon can do more than help cool you off on a hot summer day; its high water content can rehydrate you, and the nutrients inside it will help fight off disease by neutralizing free radicals and improving skin health. Watermelon does not have high fiber content, but the fiber it has helps support a healthy good, meaning that this summer favorite is an excellent source of prebiotics. Eating watermelon stimulates the production of good bacteria in your gut while improving the health of the intestinal lining and even boosting your mood. Who said you could have too much of a good thing?
Leeks are not popular among Americans, but people in the United Kingdom commonly consume them. A leek is like a cousin of the more familiar garlic and onion, but with a milder taste. The fibers in leeks pass all of the tests to be a good prebiotic, so they are a great way of improving the health of your microbiome. Consuming leeks and other members of the allium family can help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, so if you are looking to boost the health of your gut, there is no excuse for not adding leeks to your diet. They can be a great ingredient for soups, or you can eat them whole when roasted with herbs.
If you watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as a kid, you might have had nightmares about turning into a blueberry. However, you do not need to fear unless you have been naughty and eating untested chewing gum when you were told not to. Blueberries have a rich nutritional profile and are one of the best sources of probiotics that you can eat. They contain potassium, copper, B vitamins, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, and manganese. People who eat blueberries regularly have much better gut health, less inflammation, more sensitivity to insulin (bye-bye, diabetes!), and stronger GI tracts. Start adding blueberries to smoothies, oatmeal, cereal, and even baked goods to get their prebiotics and other health benefits.
If you are not already eating walnuts regularly, then you need to. They have more antioxidants than spinach and overflow with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Their magnesium and phosphorus content improves bone and muscle health, and their proteins may prevent or alleviate cognitive decline associated with aging. Studies with rats eating walnuts have dramatically increased gut health, ranging from more good bacteria and fewer bad bacteria to more microflora diversity. The special fibers inside walnuts seem to be particularly potent prebiotics. So start adding walnuts to your oatmeal, salads, and baked goods to get their nutritional benefit!
An apple a day does more than keeping the doctor away; it can significantly boost the health of your microbiome. Apples are rich in pectin, a type of soluble fiber favorite of gut bacteria. Pectin can also boost your immune system, much of which is in your gut. The soluble and insoluble fibers can help you stay regular, meaning that bloating and constipation can go away with regular apple-eating. Make sure that you eat the peel, meaning that applesauce and apple pie will probably not give you the prebiotic benefits of a whole apple. Organic apples are best, as non-organic apples are laced with pesticides and can be genetically modified.
Mushrooms are part of the fungi family, meaning that they are not plants. People do not usually look to mushrooms for boosting their gut health, as mushrooms are not known for being high in fiber. However, their carbohydrate profile makes them perfect for gut health. Mushrooms contain chitin, a type of carbohydrate that is exceptional at promoting and maintaining the health of your microbiome. Furthermore, you may not be a huge fan of mushrooms, but you can sip on this fungus’ cousin, kombucha. Kombucha is a type of tea made through fermentation with a scoby. You can also enjoy the nutritional benefits of mushrooms through coffees and meat substitutes that are mushroom-based but don’t taste like mushrooms.
Cabbage is a cruciferous vegetable, closely related to broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach. Experts recommend that you eat cabbage at least every other week, but many people are averse to the pungent smell that fills their homes whenever they cook it. This vegetable is full of vitamins and minerals, as well as a healthy dose of prebiotic fiber that the bacteria in your microbiome can chow down on. You can eat fermented cabbage, like kimchi or sauerkraut, raw cabbage in a salad or as coleslaw, or cooked cabbage on its own or as a soup. There are so many ways to eat this healthy vegetable that your taste buds and gut cannot afford to miss it. Keep reading for the top ten ways to add more probiotics into your diet for optimal gut health.
Corn can get a bad rap from nutritionists due to its high carbohydrate content, but it has prebiotics that helps get your gut health on track. The zeaxanthin and lutein in corn help preserve your eyes from macular degeneration, and the resistant starch helps promote gut health. Nevertheless, opening up a can of corn and heating it up on the stove does not guarantee you will reap this grain’s nutritional benefits. Cook the whole cob fresh, and then shave off the kernels for best results. You can also eat corn cold in a salad with black beans and other vegetables to get even more of the resistant starch.
Oatmeal is one of the quickest and easiest breakfast foods you can make, and your gut will thank you for it throughout the day. Oats have resistant starch, which is not digested and passes somewhat intact down to your colon. The bacteria in your microbiome then feast on it all day long and get super happy. The result is a laxative effect, sweeping your colon out and keeping it nice and healthy. Use fruit, chia seeds, flax seeds, and/or some nuts for added benefit. Ensure that you are eating unprocessed oatmeal, not the ready-mix packets loaded with sugar and so processed that the resistant starch is ineffective.
Experts recommend eating bananas regularly to help boost your gut health because they have prebiotics that helps feed your microbiome. You may be used to waiting until the banana is yellow and maybe with a couple of brown spots on the peel to eat it, but some doctors recommend eating them while they are still green. Unripe bananas are low in sugar, so they feed the bacteria in your gut without any build-up of carbohydrates that can lead to weight gain. The starch in bananas also helps you feel full longer, causing you to eat less. If you can’t stomach the idea of unripe banana, add one into a smoothie for breakfast a few times a week.
You may think of dandelions as weeds that you have to get rid of, but don’t bring out the Round-Up yet! Dandelion greens, the green part of the plant, are super nutritious and can be eaten much the same way you would eat lettuce, kale, or spinach. They lower the levels of bad lipids in your bloodstream, fight inflammation, and neutralize free radicals. You can harvest them straight from your yard, as long as you haven’t been treating your yard with chemicals that you don’t want to put inside your body. You can even use the flowers themselves in salads or teas. If you don’t have dandelions in your local area, you can buy teas or even fresh greens at a health food store.
Popeye may have popularized this vegetable by eating it out of a can to gain instant strength, but there are plenty of other ways to eat spinach and become a superhero. You don’t have to open a can; you can eat fresh leaves as the base for a salad, as a topping for a sandwich, or as an addition to just about any soup. Put simply; spinach is one of the healthiest foods that you can eat. It has tons of vitamin C and vitamin K, as well as fiber and phytochemicals that benefit your eyes. Be like Popeye and eat more spinach!
Chocolate lovers and women experiencing PMS can rejoice that dark chocolate made its way onto the list of foods loaded with prebiotics that you should be eating more of. Notice that this is not milk chocolate or white chocolate, both of which have the nutritional content of the cocoa bean stripped out by too much processing. Dark chocolate is more expensive and has a stronger flavor. Cocoa beans have polyphenols, an antioxidant that feeds the good bacteria in your microbiome. Studies have proven that people who regularly eat dark chocolate with high polyphenol content have fewer bad bacteria and more good bacteria. Anything above 70% cacao will be bitter and possibly difficult to eat, but experts recommend at least 85% cacao.
Yes, asparagus makes your pee stink, but you can help mitigate that effect by drinking plenty of water before and after eating. Asparagus is full of anti-inflammatory agents that neutralize free radicals, which zip around your body, wreaking havoc on your cells at a molecular level. If you find yourself having difficulty with the taste of asparagus, you may just be eating it wrong. Instead of opening a can of asparagus, try making a soup or stew out of fresh stalks that you buy at the grocery store or local farmers’ market. If you love the taste of asparagus, then, by all means, add it to your salads, sandwiches, omelets, everything.
Jerusalem artichokes are neither from Jerusalem nor true artichokes, but they are super healthy for your microbiome. Did you know that Jerusalem artichokes are part of a sunflower that grows in the Americas? However, they taste like mild artichoke mixed with a potato. You can even eat them like potatoes by baking them in their skin and eating them with sour cream and other toppings you would normally eat on a baked potato. Jerusalem artichokes have a lot of fiber, making them great for boosting your prebiotics. They have also been linked to better managing diabetes, increasing iron intake, and boosting calcium absorption.
Did you know onions would be on a prebiotic list? Onions are health superstars. They have a lot of prebiotic fiber, especially before cooking them, so load up your veggie burger, salad, and vegetable-based chili with cut-up onions as toppings. They also contain a compound known as quercetin, which has antioxidant and anticancer properties. Look for recipes that use an onion base to incorporate more of these heart-healthy, gut-friendly vegetables into your diet. A word of caution: While a blooming onion may sound like an easy way to get more quercetin and prebiotics into your diet, these dishes have bad fats from the frying and dipping sauces. A blooming onion should be a treat that you share with a crowd; don’t trick yourself into thinking that it is healthy.
If you haven’t been able to tell yet, prebiotics are great for your stomach and gut. Moreover, when you saw “garlic” listed as a good prebiotic, you may have shaken your head for a second. Really? That pungent spiciness is supposed to help get your stomach feeling better? Not worse? Yes. Garlic has an indigestible carbohydrate known as inulin; it helps promote the growth of the healthy bacteria in your microbiome. Garlic has tons of antioxidants, along with antimicrobial and anticancer properties. If you have been sluggish and bloated, garlic may be what the doctor ordered. But be careful. If you suffer from IBS or are on a low FODMAP diet that severely restricts indigestible carbohydrates, garlic could be a trigger for gastric distress.