Don’t Forget the Need for Prebiotics

by Elisa Olivier-Nielsen, MA, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, EON Consulting

When addressing health, probiotics seem to be the heroes of our digestive system.

They are live microorganisms, such as bacteria and yeast, found in various foods containing live cultures or in dietary supplements that confer extensive health benefits.

However, the vital key that most people forget is to supply these important probiotics with prebiotics.

Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates, dietary fibers, which help “feed” probiotics. You will experience increased health benefits pairing them together on a regular basis.

Below are some of the health benefits associated with prebiotics:

  • Lower risk for cardiovascular disease
  • Healthier cholesterol levels
  • Better gut health
  • Improved digestion
  • Lower stress response
  • Better hormonal balance
  • Higher immune function
  • Lower risk for obesity and weight gain
  • Lower inflammation and autoimmune reactions

Common Prebiotic Foods

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 and radicchio. 

Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans.

Fruits: nectarines, white peaches, persimmons, watermelon, grapefruit, pomegranate, dried fruit (like dates or figs), apples, under-ripe bananas.

Whole grains and other products: barley, rye, wheat (pasta, bread, etc.), oats, wheat bran, couscous, corn, psyllium husk.

Other foods: raw honey, coconut flour, dark chocolate, wild rice, chia seeds, flaxseed.

A word of caution—

Several food manufacturers offer foods that are “high in fiber,” but some of them are isolated fiber sources that are difficult to digest; some might even have mild laxative effects.

Just because a food is high in fiber, it does not mean it is a good source of prebiotics. It is always best acquiring dietary fiber and prebiotics from whole, real foods. A healthy, balanced diet can provide an adequate source of probiotics and prebiotics on a daily basis.

For those individuals who travel (especially internationally), or for those who cannot tolerate dairy products, fermented foods and high fiber foods, supplementing with a quality probiotic supplement that also includes prebiotics can be beneficial.

Baking or consuming foods with a variety of plant-based flours is one way to introduce new sources of prebiotics to your diet, so have fun experimenting with different recipes in your kitchen!