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The Best Prebiotic Foods and Why You Need Them

Ensuring your gut bacteria (your microbiota) are in balance is of the utmost importance to your overall health and wellbeing. This microbial system, teeming with trillions of organisms, comprises what is known as your microbiome. Scientists are finding increasing evidence that your gut and microbiome, though previously overlooked, actually participate in or even control several systems in your body. In fact, the microbiome has shown to have so much bodily influence that it’s being called “the second brain.”1

Researchers have documented how this second brain influences immunity, the production and upregulating of serotonin and dopamine (as well as many other hormones and chemicals),2 hypertension, mood, depression, weight regulation, inflammation, and more.3

On the other hand, a compromised microbiome (a condition known as dysbiosis) can lead to disease, allergies, obesity, autoimmune issues, and worse. 4

You may be aware that probiotics (healthy/good bacteria) are essential for your gut (microbiome) health. Supplementing with a quality probiotic product, and/or incorporating fermented and other probiotic foods, is a basic measure to kickstart, improve, or maintain a healthy microbiome.4

However, there is another piece of the healthy microbiome puzzle that many people miss out on… prebiotics.

What Are Prebiotics?

Though the exact definition of prebiotics is under review,5 the generally accepted definition of prebiotics is best put by the Mayo Clinic:

“Prebiotics are nondigestible substances that act as food for the gut microbiota. Essentially, prebiotics stimulate growth or activity of certain healthy bacteria that live in your body.”6

Family making salad with fiberous prebiotic veggiesIt certainly seems logical that if you want a healthy set of microbiota (gut flora), you would “feed” them and encourage them to thrive. Yet, few are familiar with the concept.

A study published in 2015 shared results of a survey of 200 adult inpatients at an urban hospital. Only 11% of respondents knew the term “prebiotic,” and only 7% picked the right definition out of the four other choices.7

Of more concern is that in a survey of 245 health care providers (100 of which were doctors), only 22% were familiar with the term. Also worrying, there was distinct confusion among this group about the differences between probiotics and prebiotics.8

Despite this appearance of common ignorance, prebiotics, as they relate to our microbiome and overall health, are getting increasing attention from the scientific community. This is largely due to the extreme importance of a healthy gut, as mentioned above.

In fact, there is some evidence that “just” adding prebiotics to your diet can have profound effects on your microbiota. In what appears to be a somewhat informal study devised by Gemma Walton PhD, School of Food Biosciences at the University of Reading in the UK, the BBC Science and Nature page reported the following in 2014:

“We took 8 hard-working cowboys, and divided them into two groups. Half of them were put on a diet of probiotics − cultures containing good bacteria found in foods such as yoghurt. The other half we put on a prebiotic diet − substances found in certain vegetables such as leeks and bananas, which make the pre-existing good bacteria in the gut healthier.

Then we got down to the dirty work. Their poo was examined daily to measure the change in bacteria. If the good bacteria are fed well they should multiply in number and make the ranchers healthier.

The cowboys’ poo showed that the prebiotic group managed to increase their good bacteria numbers by 133 million, small in bacteria terms, but an encouraging effect. The probiotic group saw little change over the week, but over a longer period there’s evidence that they can make a difference.

It seems from our investigation the best thing you can do for your bacterial health is treat your good bacteria to a prebiotic meal.”9

The conclusions drawn from this somewhat casual study is gaining evidence in formal research as well.10 More so, science is demonstrating that the combined one-two punch of using both prebiotics and probiotics has significant potential for improvement in various conditions, and contributing to long-term health.11

So what are these “nondigestible substances” that can have such a meaningful impact on our health and microbiome?

A Closer Look at Prebiotics

Generally speaking, prebiotics are fibre. They are insoluble fiber that cannot be completely digested, and can survive the small intestine, arriving at the large intestine to feed your microbiota. Such fibers include: inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides (fructans, FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS).12Strawberries are a prebiotic food

Eating fiber has long been considered to better your health, across the board.13,14  Many of us end up with a compromised microbiome by way of antibiotics, stress, high sugar and low quality high fat diets, and eating few probiotic foods.

Not eating enough fiber to nourish the microbiome − the typical Western diet − is another way we can inadvertently create imbalance in our microbiota.15 Good bacteria can die off, and other bacteria, as well as viruses and fungi, can gain the upper hand.16 But it doesn’t end there.

According to Monash University of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences in Australia, the benefits of a diet abundant in prebiotic fiber also include: elevated satiety (feeling full), weight management, reduced symptoms and incidence of IBS, improving overall immune function, protection from gut infections, and an increase in the uptake of minerals like calcium and magnesium.12

Other Prebiotic Sources

While most prebiotic food sources are fibre, not all are. The scientific requirement to be classified as a prebiotic food is a food that:14

  • Resists gastric acidity, hydrolysis by mammalian enzymes, and absorption in the upper gastrointestinal tract;
  • Is fermented by the intestinal microflora;
  • Selectively stimulates the growth and/or activity of intestinal bacteria.

Recently, some starches have also gained attention as prebiotics. These are termed “resistant starches.”17,10

Resistant starches also make it through your digestive system through to your large intestine, and due to their “resistance” to being digested, serve as a buffet line for your gut flora. (NB: Those with leaky gut and other conditions with compromised gut linings need to be cautious when introducing resistant starches to the diet.28)

So with all this in mind, what exactly are the best prebiotic foods?

The Best Prebiotic Foods

The best prebiotic foods, encompassing the known types are:6,12,14,16,18,19,20

NB: A note on rice, potatoes and pasta: the prebiotic “resistant” qualities intensify if you cook, then cool these foods.21 Thus pasta or potato salad, and a cold rice pudding or salad would have stronger prebiotic qualities than fresh-cooked.

As with any food, finding the best quality form of all the above is vital. Choose organic wherever possible, and at minimum, food that has not been irradiated.22,23

The One-Two Punch of Prebiotics & Probiotics

Of course the purpose of eating all these healthful and delicious foods is to promote the vitality of the probiotics already in your body. It’s making the most of what you have.

It stands to reason, and is being confirmed by researchers, that the combination of eating prebiotic foods and probiotic foods is the ideal. Eating probiotic and fermented foods and substances that are rich in enzymes, anaerobes, lactic acid, probiotic strains and more, is a foundation, and relatively easy to accomplish. However, in this day and age we can’t count on food alone to get all the strains of microbes we need to have the most diverse and healthy microbiome.

Supplementing with a quality probiotic that is plant-based (not over-sensitive to heat and other conditions that can cause die off between manufacture and home), with strains such as Bacillus coagulans and Lactobacillus plantarum24-27 that can survive the stomach and upper gastric tracts, as well as consuming probiotic-encouraging prebiotics is the one-two punch your microbiome, health, and wellbeing needs to be at optimal function.

One of the best ways to support good gut health is with a quality probiotic supplement. ProBiotixx from Organixx contains three amazing components that will improve your digestion, support your immune system, and help restore healthy bacteria in your gut.

 

Sources:

  1. The Gut-Brain Axis: Interactions Between Enteric Microbiota, Central and Enteric Nervous Systems
  2. Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood?
  3. What is the gut microbiota? What is the human microbiome?
  4. ‘Gut health’: A New Objective in Medicine?
  5. Prebiotics: Why Definitions Matter
  6. Mayo Clinic Health Letter – Page 8
  7. Knowledge, Use and Perceptions of Probiotics and Prebiotics in Hospitalised Patients
  8. Health Care Provider’s Knowledge, Perceptions, and Use of Probiotics and Prebiotics.
  9. Prebiotics Vs Probiotics
  10. Recent Developments in Drebiotics to Delectively Impact Beneficial Microbes and Promote Intestinal Health
  11. Microbiota Manipulation With Prebiotics and Probiotics in Patients Undergoing Stem Cell Transplantation
  12. Dietary Fibre and Natural Prebiotics for Gut Health: FAQs
  13. Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits
  14. Ibid
  15. Dietary Fiber and Prebiotics and the Gastrointestinal Microbiota
  16. Benefits of a Fiber-Rich Diet
  17. Resistant Starch, Large Bowel Fermentation and a Broader Perspective of Prebiotics and Probiotics
  18. Potential Prebiotic Properties of Cashew Apple (Anacardium Occidentale L.) Agro-Industrial Byproduct on Lactobacillus Species
  19. The 19 Best Prebiotic Foods You Should Eat
  20. Prebiotics: How to Feed Your Good Bacteria
  21. Resistant Starch—A Review of the Physical Properties and Biological Impact of RS3
  22. What’s Wrong with Food Irradiation
  23. FAQs: The Foods Irradiated in Canada and the Safety Issues
  24. Bacillus Coagulans
  25. Genomic Analysis of Thermophilic Bacillus Coagulans Strains: Efficient Producers for Platform Bio-Chemicals
  26. Effect of Probiotic Bacillus Coagulans and Lactobacillus Plantarum on Alleviation of Mercury Toxicity in Rat
  27. L. Plantarum Prevents Enteroinvasive Escherichia Coli-Induced Tight Junction Proteins Changes in Intestinal Epithelial Cells
  28. Resistant Starch: Healthy or Not?

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Thank you , my wife is of Japanese decent born in the USA! makes fermented foods weekly

    Thank you for your list , she will definitely make the ones you outlined

    Thanks again
    We live your products

    Joe

    • Too many grains and seeds listed here. Gluten, phytate, protease inhibitors and other anti nutrients wreck havoc on the digestive system. The “goodness of whole grains” is an outdated myth, andneeds to be addressed when mentioning digestive health..

      • You are so right!
        The book “No Pain No Grain ” explains the principles…
        And a great number of people have allergies or intolerances to gluten. .even if not: best to avoid grains with gluten.
        Also people suffering with arthritis should not take certain foods (inflammation..) or milk products..

      • Yes grains and nuts have phytates and enzymes which make them less digestible..
        Answer:. The Weston A price foundation has outlined the best way to make them better it’s an old old knowledge from hundreds and thousands of years ago.

        Simply soak your seeds and nuts generally from four to six hours p pour off the old water and soak him again rinse them and they’re good to go! Easy.

  2. Very good information. Sometimes that are good and bad things about does and we must weigh the good verses the bad. For instance, cashews may be considered as a prebiotic yet they are a Lectin and some believe Lectins are not healthy to consume. Again “dark breads” have similar pros and cons and we should watch “night shade” veggies.

    • What is an optimum healthy food for you, may not work at all for me. Assuming that all human body types (chemisties) are alike is a foolish and dangerous approach. Eating according to my blood type drastically changed my life and my health. And likely saved it from a accelerated and sufferable aging process. Several first hand similar testimonials from friends/relatives corroborate that my experience is not an anomoly.

  3. I agree with Stan. Interestingly enough, most of the prebiotic foods listed, I am allergic too (oats, barley, flax, cashews, potatoes, kidney beans, garlic…the list goes on). And wheat??? Since when is wheat a prebiotic?

    Wheat should be completely eliminated in everyone’s diet due to it’s horrific flooding of pesticides from the onset of the seed being manufactured & Monsanto injecting the seed with Round up before it even grows in the fields!

    Not sure if the food list was helpful but the explanation was. Thank you.

    • Wheat as God created it is one of the best food you can get.
      I am gluten free too so I understand where you are coming from.
      Get organic spelt which is the closest thing to good wheat ….but don’t ever have it unless it is organic. And don’t have it before you have taken restore from restore 4 Life which can reseal your gut and heal the gluten/ glyphosate reactions. All good was created to be helpful but not the ones men’s greed has changed. Enjoy food and live!

  4. I have problems with food fermenting in my stomach! I do probiotics but would like to know if probiotics could help my situation.

    • Fermentation in the stomach may indicate excess yeast or fungus you could try rubbing your gums with origano oil

    • Carole I had the same thing years ago, but eventually realized it was lack of stomach acid in my case (my doctor didn’t know and wasn’t interested). I’m sure there are online methods of testing if you have enough stomach acid/hydrochloric acid; it would be a good idea to look the ways of testing that up before adding it to your diet, but I think it might help from what you’ve said.

      I also found out a couple of days ago by chance that lack of taurine in the diet (I have been mostly vegetarian for years) actually affects hydrochloric acid in the stomach and makes it weaker – I don’t know if this might help, but I hope so – if vegetarian please look up other nutrients you might be missing.

      Then you should look at prebiotics and probiotics, and/or ask your medical service provider. Please double check any information given to you so you know it is accurate. I’m not a doctor, I just know about the things that I’ve suffered for so many long and want to help others if I can. (It is alarming that out of 100 doctors surveyed in the article above so few knew about pre and probiotics!).

    • We would suggest talking with a medical professional about the different foods. This is because everyone’s body is different and some foods affect people differently.

      • Sadly, Doctors learn very little about nutrition at University and have neither the time nor the interest during a consultation. I find this particularly disturbing considering the vast majority of health concerns begin in the Gastrointestinal tract.
        I would recommend anyone interested in learning more about their own health(and their families) begin by researching the diet of healthy populations with high longevity e.g. Japan, and then research how their health changes when they are introduced to a Western diet. The incidence of cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases etc, where once virtually did not exist, increases dramatically. I recently spent time in Tanzania and have learned that cancer and diabetes in the cities in now a very big health concern but is still virtually nonexistent with Massai living a traditional lifestyle. Says it all really.
        So……….generally speaking, it would not be a Doctor to whom I would be looking to for answers regarding nutrition. My apologies to those Doctors who are the exception, including the late Dr Chris Reading, a truly exceptional man.

  5. So between the article, list of foods and comments, all is very confusing as to how best get and balance prebiotics and probiotics. As another mentioned, good information to have – how can we “trust” the food sources?

    • Hi CA,
      We always suggest going organic and trying to buy locally produced food. You can also talk to your local grocery store to find more about where they get their food from.

  6. I am interested in including inulin with my cereal each morning. I take the tip of a teaspoon but, regrettably, I suffer with flatulence as a result. I find it too embarrassing to continue the regime. Is there another way to take the inulin?
    Thanks for the article. Very enlightening.

    • You have to start with a very tiny amount; it takes time, possibly a month before you may not have flatulence. Some practitioners feel if you have that response to insulin, you possibly have SIBO. Check into that and it may be helpful.

    • Try eating the Yacon root, for inulin, which does not give you flatulence, whereas the Jerusalem artichoke does.

  7. I liked your article was one of the best on this subject i have ever read. I would like to make a few points 1. There is no one formula fits all solution to good health. We are all different in some way mainly in diet and daily activity and one must learn what works for them and apply it. (what works for me might not work for you) 2. Exercise and eating clean clean(organic if possible) and clean water is the main key to good health. 3. Your nutrition should be built on a foundation of eating Organic food seasoned with Organic Herbs and Spices and eat the Rainbow of Colors when you select your food and seasoning. Then use Essential Oils as your medicine when you get sick. (learn and use caution when using the E.O) as they are up to 50 times stronger than the Herbs and Spices. 4. Apply what is contained in this article to maintain good intestinal flora.

  8. Thanks very much…im from South Africa and inkomazi is one of the fermented liquid i take regularly beacause i know it benefits my microbiota.thanks for the info once again👏

  9. Hi Ty and the team
    You should also include a section with a list of herbal prebiotics
    Thank you for the good job
    Kind regards

  10. Genesis 1:29
    …I have given you every herb bearing… and every tree, yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

    Trust your Creator and find ancient grains(einkorn wheat verses modern) and follow age old preparation methods for all seeds(nuts, grains, ect)
    AND ALSO- Once your microbes are strong and in balance, a lot of issues we are warned against with certain foods are no longer an issue. They are an issue only because our gut is so weak and sickly in the first place. ALL BE BLESSED

  11. Thanks for the information. Why can’t we copy the sources at the end of the article? If I am copying an article, I want the sources along with the body of the article.

    • Hi Amanda,
      I just tried copying the links and had no issue. Another thing you could do is open the links and then copy the hyperlinks from your browser window.

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