The Top 10 Best Prebiotic Foods

The Top 10 Best Prebiotic Foods For Your Gut Health Dr. Will Cole

In my telehealth functional medicine clinic, I consult people every day on the importance of maintaining a healthy gut for thriving overall health. I often see people wanting to heal their gut, but they don’t know where to start.

Instead of some major diet change (although sometimes that is necessary) or an endless supply of supplements, the biggest thing you can do for your gut health is eating more foods rich in the nutrients your gut needs to flourish - prebiotics being one of them. 

Prebiotics tend to get overshadowed in favor of probiotics, but what exactly are they and how can we get more into our diets? Read on as we uncover why prebiotics are so beneficial for our health and the best prebiotic foods you should be eating.

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What are prebiotics?

Known as your microbiome, your gut contains a vast variety of microorganisms that influence all areas of your health including digestion, immunity, brain health, weight, and more. Ultimately, you want to have more beneficial strains of bacteria than pathogenic strains. Everything from stress to poor diet can play a role in your microbiome balance.

Prebiotics act as food for the good bacteria in your gut. They are a form of dietary fiber found in certain foods that are digested slower by your body and act as a source of food for your gut’s healthy bacteria so they can multiply. Many foods contain fiber but those that contain high amounts of fiber are considered the best prebiotic foods as they make the biggest difference for your gut health.

The difference between prebiotics and probiotics

In functional medicine we talk a lot about probiotics however, both prebiotics and probiotics are necessary for a healthy gut. You need both to maintain bacterial diversity and prevent bacterial dysbiosis - where the bad guys outnumber the good bacteria.

The biggest difference between the two is that probiotics are live bacteria that you are introducing straight into your gut. Basically, prebiotics and prebiotic foods are food for your probiotics so that they can continue to grow and multiply.

Benefits of prebiotic foods

I’m often asked what are the best prebiotics. Ultimately, prebiotic foods are going to be the best prebiotics rather than supplements. I believe food is foundational and that we can get the majority of nutrients we need from our diets. 

Keeping your gut healthy with prebiotic foods is going to impact your overall health, but it is also going to have some specific benefits that you can notice more immediately.

1. Keeps you regular

Diarrhea and constipation are no fun. Prebiotics help add bulk to your stool to alleviate these problems, allowing for healthy, regular bowel movements.

2. Promotes stable blood sugar

Eating prebiotics can help manage your blood sugar over time by slowing the rate at which certain foods spike your blood sugar. This is especially important considering high blood sugar is linked to metabolic health problems such as insulin resistance, weight loss resistance, obesity, and diabetes.

3. Supports your immune system

Your gut produces short-chain fatty acids as a byproduct of fermenting the prebiotic fiber that you eat. Short-chain fatty acids have been shown to support healthy inflammation levels and promote a strong immune system due to the fact that they are one of the main sources of fuel for the cells in your digestive tract that keep your gut barrier strong and avoid leaky gut syndrome. What exactly does a healthy gut have to do with your immune system? Close to 70% of your immune system is located in your gut!

The top prebiotic foods to eat

Thankfully, getting enough prebiotics in your diet is not difficult as they are found in many foods you probably already eat. How much prebiotic foods you need to eat every day is going to vary depending on your health case and whether or not you are dealing with an underlying gut problem that could benefit from more prebiotics. These are some of my favorite foods high in prebiotics.

1. Chicory root

Often used as a replacement for coffee due to the fact that it is caffeine-free, this plant tastes similar to coffee and is high in inulin, a type of prebiotic fiber. Inulin is a type of soluble fiber that has been shown to help maintain healthy blood glucose levels. (1)

2. Garlic

If your gut is struggling, just add a few more garlic cloves into your next meal! Studies have shown that garlic can help inhibit the growth of pathogenic bacteria through its ability to significantly boost the growth of good bacteria like Bifidobacteria. (2)

3. Jerusalem artichoke

Not to be confused with your traditional green artichoke, a Jerusalem artichoke - also known as a sunchoke - is actually not an artichoke at all and is instead a tuber that grows from a plant that is part of the sunflower family. It is also high in soluble inulin fiber.

4. Onions

Similar to garlic, onions contain beneficial inulin fiber. However, these onions are also considered a part of the FODMAP (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols - aka short-chain carbohydrates) family. If you have a FODMAP intolerance, this is going to likely outweigh its prebiotic benefits.

5. Dandelion greens

It’s hard to look at dandelions any other way than a garden nuisance. But when it comes to your gut health, dandelion greens are filled with good prebiotic fiber. One of the best ways to take advantage of their prebiotic benefits is by adding them to salads and green smoothies.

6. Asparagus

In addition to being rich in folate, a necessary B vitamin, asparagus contains high amounts of inulin fiber. I like to chop up asparagus and add them to stir frys with some cauliflower rice and other prebiotic-rich foods like onion and garlic.

7. Oats

Oats are high in another type of soluble fiber known as beta-glucan that has been shown to be anti-inflammatory (3) and linked to lowering cancer risk (4) in addition to its gut-supporting benefits.

8. Apples

An apple a day keeps the doctor away. This statement certainly rings true when it comes to apples' gut-supporting abilities. After all, your gut is the foundation of your entire health.

Apples contain pectin - a type of soluble fiber - that helps increase the short-chain fatty acid known as butyrate which can help with maintaining a healthy weight. (5)

9. Bananas

Bananas can get overlooked in favor of other fruits like berries that are lower in carbohydrates. However, bananas contain so many important nutrients in addition to prebiotic fiber, including electrolytes like potassium. 

Green bananas in particular are high in resistant starch that can help those with chronic gut problems. Add fresh (or frozen) bananas to smoothies or smoothie bowls, or get resistant starch in powdered form to add to smoothies too.

10. Leeks

You might not realize this, but leeks are actually in the same family as garlic and onions and also contain high amounts of inulin fiber.

Consulting a functional medicine professional

Prebiotic foods can do wonders for your gut when you start incorporating more of them in your diet. But if you have been eating more prebiotic foods for a while and are still having gut problems or other symptoms, it may be time to seek out the advice of a functional medicine practitioner.

At my telehealth functional medicine clinic, we look at all aspects of your health - diet, lifestyle, and emotional triggers - that could be playing a role in your health problems. We can then identify the best course of action moving forward, including additional dietary changes.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.

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References:

  1. Nwafor, Ifeoma Chinyelu et al. “Chemical Composition and Nutritive Benefits of Chicory (Cichorium intybus) as an Ideal Complementary and/or Alternative Livestock Feed Supplement.” TheScientificWorldJournal vol. 2017 (2017): 7343928. doi:10.1155/2017/7343928
  2. Ning Zhang, Xuesong Huang, Yanhua Zeng, Xiyang Wu, Xichun Peng “Study on prebiotic effectiveness of neutral garlic fructan in vitro” Food Science and Human Wellness Volume 2, Issues 3–4, 2013, Pages 119-123, ISSN 2213-4530, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fshw.2013.07.0
  3. Bashir, Khawaja Muhammad Imran, and Jae-Suk Choi. “Clinical and Physiological Perspectives of β-Glucans: The Past, Present, and Future.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 18,9 1906. 5 Sep. 2017, doi:10.3390/ijms18091906
  4. Akramiene, Dalia et al. “Effects of beta-glucans on the immune system.” Medicina (Kaunas, Lithuania) vol. 43,8 (2007): 597-606.
  5. Licht, Tine R et al. “Effects of apples and specific apple components on the cecal environment of conventional rats: role of apple pectin.” BMC microbiology vol. 10 13. 20 Jan. 2010, doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-13
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BY DR. WILL COLE

Evidence-based reviewed article

Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum and the brand new book Gut Feelings: Healing the Shame-Fueled Relationship Between What You Eat and How You Feel.