Health & Wellness, Nutrition

5 Prebiotics Benefits + The Top 10 Prebioitic Foods

You’ve probably heard that it’s important to get plenty of fiber in your diet, but have you heard about the importance of prebiotics? The general recommendation for a 2,000- calorie diet is 25 grams of fiber per day. But most Americans only get about half of that —about 15 grams daily.

While it’s definitely important to get enough fiber, or “roughage,” you want to be sure you’re getting not only enough fiber, but the right kind of fiber in your diet. Currently, the most popular sources of fiber in the Standard American Diet (SAD) are flour, grains, and potatoes rather than fruits, vegetables, and legumes. The issue? Well, the types of fiber you want to be sure you’re getting enough of each day are known as prebiotics. And you’ll notice that these aren’t mentioned in the list above. Moreover, they aren’t really discussed much at all as part of the SAD.

I’ve previously shared how I’ve struggled with digestive issues for most of my life. Making changes to my diet was key to improving my digestive health. And getting the right kind of fiber was just one of the beneficial changes I made. These days I eat a plant-based diet, which ensures that I consume plenty of healthy prebiotic foods, such fresh fruits and vegetables, each day—and it’s made such a difference.

So, let’s take a closer look at what prebiotics are, their top benefits, and which foods contain the most prebiotics.

 

What Are Prebiotics?

There’s a good chance you’re familiar with probiotics but maybe you’re not familiar with prebiotics. You may be wondering what they are and if they’re also necessary. Well, it’s actually not a question of prebiotic versus probiotic; your body needs both. So, what is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

Probiotics help to populate the beneficial bacteria in your gut. They are basically living microorganisms, or “good” bacteria that help to keep your gastrointestinal—and overall—health in balance. Food sources of probiotics include fermented foods such as sauerkraut, miso, and yogurt.

Prebiotics are essentially a type of fiber that serves as food for these living microorganisms—they help to keep your gut microbiota alive and flourishing. There are actually eight categories of prebiotic dietary fiber and, of these, there are many sources of prebiotic and probiotic foods available. [1] Plus, when they’re broken down by probiotic bacteria, they create byproducts known as short-chain fatty acids (SFCAs), which are important to maintaining gut and immune system health. [2, 3, 4]

Prebiotics aren’t digested in the small intestine. Instead, they continue through the gastrointestinal tract to the colon where they begin to break down and are fermented by the good bacteria in the gut. This fermentation and feeding of gut microbiota are what distinguishes prebiotics from other kinds of fiber. [5]

However, if you have trouble getting enough probiotics or prebiotics in your diet, you can try taking a dietary supplement. As always, be sure to check with your healthcare provider for medical advice before making major dietary changes or introducing new supplements, especially if you take other medications or supplements. Also, for best results, be sure to purchase high-quality prebiotic supplements, or any supplement for that matter!

5 Health Benefits of Prebiotics

Prebiotics provide many direct and indirect health benefits. In fact, prebiotics influence not only your gut, but also your brain, heart, skin, and more. [6]

Current research shows there are many benefits of prebiotics. Let’s take a look at five of the top benefits.

1. Supports gut health

Prebiotics play an important role in supporting the gut microbiota, which is now considered a separate organ by many in the scientific community. Interestingly, a healthy, diverse gut microbiome not only helps to support gut health and prevent gastrointestinal diseases, but it also helps to prevent inflammation in the body. [7]

The anti-inflammatory effects supported by a healthy gut provide other important benefits to the rest of the body, including the immune system, central nervous system, cardiovascular system, and the skin.

Mixed clinical research results show that prebiotics may help to prevent and alleviate irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) as well as Crohn’s disease. Research continues to determine conclusively how prebiotics can help to relieve these conditions and others. Other research reveals that prebiotics may also help to lower the risk of colorectal cancer. [8]

2. Helps boost immune system

The anti-inflammatory effects indirectly stimulated by prebiotics also help to support the immune system. Prebiotics can also help to decrease the proliferation of pathogens in the gut and increase the number of immunity molecules. [9]

3. Helps support central nervous system

A healthy balance of prebiotics and probiotics helps to ensure a healthy “gut-brain axis,” or connection between the gut and the central nervous system. Prebiotics can influence memory and mood, and even learning due to their interaction with the gut microbiota and subsequent effects on neurotransmitters and stress hormones.

There is also evidence that 70 percent of people who have autism also have gastrointestinal disorders compared to 9 percent of those who do not have autism. Gastrointestinal disorders include chronic constipation and other resulting diseases, diarrhea, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), abdominal bloating, and others.

Patients with autism have also been found to have high levels of Clostridium (a pathogen) and lower levels of Bifidobacterium (“good” bacteria). Research continues to better understand the gut-brain axis and its link to our health. [10]

4. Lowers risk of cardiovascular disease

Heart disease continues to be the number one cause of death in the United States. In fact, in 2013, 30 percent of deaths were due to heart disease. [11]

Proper diet and exercise remain two of the best preventive measures to take to improve cardiovascular health. Prebiotics are known to have an indirect effect on helping to decrease the risk of heart disease because of the digestive support and anti-inflammatory benefits they provide. [12]

5. Helps prevent skin allergies

The immune system benefits caused by prebiotics and probiotics also help to support skin health. So far researchers have only confirmed this with prebiotics that are ingested, but there is also research exploring the topical use of some prebiotics to treat certain skin conditions. [13]

10 Prebiotic Foods

There are many dietary sources of prebiotics. I have listed 10 foods high in prebiotics below, including a variety of fruits and vegetables. Keep in mind this is not a comprehensive prebiotic foods list. My goal here is to share with you some of the top sources of prebiotic fiber to help you get started with incorporating more into your diet.

1. Apples

A sweet, crunchy apple has many health benefits, including providing healthy prebiotic fiber to help keep your gut microbiome balanced. As a bonus, apples make for easy snacks, either on their own or spread with almond or cashew butter. Another quick way to include more apples in your diet is to chop some up and toss them onto your salad for a little burst of sweetness.

2. Asparagus

Asparagus is a flavorful vegetable that can be enjoyed many ways. One of my favorite ways to cook asparagus is to grill it! Another great way to enjoy asparagus is to put it on a baking pan with some olive or sesame seed oil and roast in the oven on 350 degrees F for about 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Bananas

Try my Basic Smoothie Recipe with Strawberries and Bananas for a healthy, tasty treat. Smoothies are perfect for a quick breakfast or a snack! You can always mix up the ingredients, too. For example, try switching out the strawberries for blueberries or chunks of apple.

4. Leeks

One of the best ways to enjoy the robust flavor of leeks is by incorporating them into a soup. Give this Roasted Cauliflower & Leek Soup a try, especially on a cold or rainy day!

5. Onions

Onions tend to be a “workhorse” ingredient; they are foundational in so many recipes. For a crisp, delicious summer recipe that also includes the prebiotic benefits of onion (and apple!), try my Apple Cider Vinegar Coleslaw. This easy-to-prepare dish includes a blend of delicious, healthy ingredients while making a fresh, tasty side.

6. Garlic

Garlic always adds a flavorful kick to a dish. My recipe for Vegan Cucumber Gazpacho not only includes the prebiotic health benefits of garlic (and onion!), but it also makes for a cool, refreshing meal on a warm day.

7. Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)

For a quick side dish, especially during cooler temps, try Jerusalem artichoke, also known as sunchokes. Toss them with some olive oil, vinegar, garlic, and thyme. Sauté in a frying pan or roast in the oven for about 35 minutes. Yum!

8. Chicory root

Chicory root contains one of the best sources of prebiotic fiber known as inulin. It is often used as a caffeine-free coffee alternative because it has a similar flavor, though it’s often described as more “woody.” That being said, if you have ragweed allergies, chicory root may not be for you. If you are pregnant, don’t consume large amounts of chicory.

 9. Dandelion greens

If you’re looking for a way to give your salads a kick, try adding dandelion greens! Dandelion gets a bad rap as a weed, but it’s actually filled with many health benefits. You can also sauté dandelion greens. You can even drink dandelion tea made from grinding up roasted dandelion roots.

10. Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds offer are a versatile way to get more prebiotic fiber in your diet. You can easily sprinkle them on a salad. You can also use ground flaxseeds as an egg replacer. Give my Super Delicious Breakfast Cookie recipe a try as a delicious way to start your day with some healthy prebiotics!

 

Prebiotics - Dr. Pingel

 

These are just a few examples of prebiotics. If you follow a plant-based diet or flexitarian diet filled with lots of fruits and vegetables, you will most likely consume plenty of natural prebiotics. This will ensure that your gut microbiota receive the prebiotic fiber they need to help keep you healthy.

 

Key Takeaways

  • You need both probiotics and prebiotics for gut health.
  • Prebiotic foods provide important dietary fiber to “feed” the good bacteria in your gut.
  • Prebiotics provide many key health benefits.
  • Dietary sources of prebiotics and probiotics include a variety of fruits and vegetables such as apples, asparagus, onions, garlic, and more.

 

You might also enjoy: The Advantages of Probiotics: Top 10 Probiotic FAQs

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