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10 Prebiotic Foods to Add to Your Diet Today

author image Kristen Mancinelli MS, RD
Kristen Mancinelli, MS, RD, is a Registered Dietitian specializing in the science of popular diets. She is author of "The Ketogenic Diet: A Scientifically Proven Approach to Fast, Healthy Weight Loss". Mancinelli holds a master's degree in nutrition and public health from Columbia University and a bachelor's degree in chemistry from NYU.

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10 Prebiotic Foods to Add to Your Diet Today
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We hear a lot about probiotics, the living organisms found in foods like yogurt and sauerkraut, which take up residency in our intestines and help to keep our digestive tracts and immune systems healthy. Well, prebiotics are essentially parts of foods that help to feed the probiotics in the gut so that they can do their job. Prebiotics are a type of fiber that passes through the digestive system intact until being consumed by the health-promoting probiotics. Prebiotics are grouped into different categories, including fructooligosaccharides (FOS), inulin (a type of FOS), polydextrose, polyols and oligofructose, among others. Regardless of the type, all prebiotics share the characteristic that they resist digestion by humans and selectively feed healthful bacteria in the gut.

Prebiotics and Our Diet
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Prebiotics and Our Diet

Prebiotics are found in very small amounts in a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and grains -- but a few standout foods contain larger amounts that can help boost your prebiotic intake. Adding these foods to your diet helps you to take full advantage of their benefits, including: increased calcium absorption, reduction of allergies and of symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and other gastrointestinal diseases, improved glucose and fat metabolism, reduced insulin resistance, protection against infections, increased satiety and reduced appetite and a reduction in overall risk of chronic disease. Read on to learn about 10 prebiotic-rich foods to include in a healthful diet.

Related: The Benefits of Fermented Foods and 5 DIY Recipes

1. Bananas
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1 Bananas

Bananas are another food that’s prized for its prebiotic content. Prebiotics are beneficial to health largely because they promote the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria. Probiotics -- the bacteria themselves -- are, like prebiotics, available in certain foods. The World Health Organization defines probiotics as “live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit on the host.” When you combine the two you have what’s called a “synbiotic.” Together, these foods are a powerfully health-boosting duo. Try adding bananas to yogurt or whole-grain breakfast cereal like oatmeal for an easy, all-around gut-healthy breakfast.

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2. Jerusalem Artichokes
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2 Jerusalem Artichokes

Jerusalem artichokes are a type of root that’s beige in color and very different from the large green vegetable that looks like a flower and goes by the same name. Jerusalem artichokes get a lot of attention for having a high concentration of inulin, a prebiotic fiber that’s a type of fructooligosaccharide (FOS). About 15 to 20 percent of the Jerusalem artichoke (by weight) is inulin. Inulin resists digestion in the stomach and absorption in the small intestine and reaches the colon intact. Once there, it promotes the growth of good bacteria. Inulin also lowers triglyceride levels. You can enjoy Jerusalem artichokes roasted or mashed, and they’re a great stand-in for potatoes as a starchy side dish.

Read more: The Benefits of Fermented Foods and 5 DIY Recipes

3. Chicory Root
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3 Chicory Root

Think you’ve never eaten it? It’s likely that you have, at least in some form. Chicory root fiber is a widely used ingredient in food products; it’s added to provide texture and cut down on the amount of fat or sugar. For this reason, chicory root is often found in foods that are marketed as low-calorie and low-sugar, such as protein or energy bars, high-fiber breakfast cereals and low-carb breads or bread products. It’s also used as a coffee substitute. Chicory root is a major source of inulin, and foods that contain it may make health claims related to the function of prebiotics. But too much of a good thing isn’t always good. Too much inulin can cause gastrointestinal distress, and it’s recommended to start adding prebiotic fiber to the diet in small amounts.

Read more: 13 Surprising and Beneficial Probiotic Foods

4. Leeks
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4 Leeks

Leeks, like garlic and onions, are a member of the allium vegetable family that’s rich in fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Although leeks may not be on your weekly shopping list, registered dietitian nutritionist Beth R. Sobel says it’s easy to include them in your diet. “Leeks can be roasted in the oven, grilled, sauteed or braised in a simple broth. One of my favorite combinations is simply roasting leeks, fennel and sweet potatoes in the oven with some olive oil, salt and pepper.” Beth recommends cutting the stalks lengthwise and washing them thoroughly under running water to remove any dirt or debris. “The most edible portion of the leek is from the bottom of the stalk up to where it turns green.” Leeks are also a flavorful addition to blended soups, especially the traditional potato-leek soup.

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5. Whole Oats
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5 Whole Oats

“Since beneficial bacteria is key to good digestion and a strong immune system, it’s important to ‘feed’ our gut bacteria with the right foods,” says Robin Foroutan, M.S., RDN, HHC, a private practice dietitian nutritionist specializing in integrative medicine and digestive health. You don’t necessarily have to reshape your diet to include prebiotic-rich foods. “Many foods have prebiotic benefits -- you might be eating a lot of them already.” Whole oats (not instant) are a great example. These common breakfast grains are known to reduce the risk of heart disease and metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes, in part due to the high concentration of prebiotic beta-glucan compounds present in oats. Beta-glucans are also found in other cereal grains, especially barley, as well as yeast, mushrooms and seaweed.

Read more: 13 Surprising and Beneficial Probiotic Foods

6. Honey
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6 Honey

You might not think of honey as containing “indigestible fiber.” Indeed, between 55 and 75 percent of honey is composed of the fast-digesting monosaccharides glucose and fructose. But honey also contains a mix of larger carbohydrates known as oligosaccharides, which have been shown to promote the growth of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, two important probiotic strains that are often found in probiotic supplements. As these helpful bacteria grow in number, they reduce the growth of other types of bacteria in the intestine that can be harmful. For this reason, they are credited with a number of gut-related health benefits, including protecting against diarrheal illness, reducing the risk of infection by intestinal viruses and reducing symptoms of lactose intolerance.

Read more: The Benefits of Fermented Foods and 5 DIY Recipes

7. Dandelion Greens
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7 Dandelion Greens

“It is surprisingly easy to include a variety of food sources of prebiotics daily,” says Beth R. Sobel, M.S., RDN, CDE, registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. “One of my favorite food sources of prebiotics are dandelion greens, a delicious bittersweet green that grows alongside the dandelion flower. They are also a great plant-based source of vitamin A, calcium, vitamin K and iron. The raw leaf is a delicious addition to salads, but since they are somewhat bitter, many people enjoy combining them with other milder, sweeter greens. A sweet citrus-based dressing can help to soften the greens slightly and cut some of their bitter flavor. Dandelion greens are also delicious sauteed or braised with garlic and onions (another source of prebiotics), which can also help elevate the sweetness and temper the bitter flavor.”

Read more: 13 Surprising and Beneficial Probiotic Foods

8. Whole Grains
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8 Whole Grains

An adequate amount of fiber in the diet not only promotes bowel regularity and protects against unhealthy weight gain, but it also lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels and improves glucose control and insulin sensitivity. Not until recently have researchers begun to tease out the particular role of prebiotic-type fibers in conferring these health benefits. For example, resistant starches found in whole wheat, rye and other whole grains help regulate the metabolism of glucose and fatty acids in the small intestine and the liver in such a way as to reduce production of excess cholesterol and slow insulin release. Other examples of whole grains include rice, barley, millet and sorghum. When consuming whole grains as part of a processed food product, make sure that “whole grains” are the first ingredient on the ingredients list, which ensures that the product is at least 51 percent whole grains.

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9. Asparagus
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9 Asparagus

The average American consumes about 15 grams of fiber per day -- about half the amount recommended for good health and prevention of chronic disease. While not all types of fiber have prebiotic activity, many of them confer some of the same health benefits. One easy way to boost your intake of both is with asparagus. This vegetable has more than half of its carbohydrate content in the form of fiber and is known to contain a good amount of prebiotic fiber in particular.

Read more: 13 Surprising and Beneficial Probiotic Foods

10. Garlic and Onions
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10 Garlic and Onions

If you’re unwilling to try some of the more unusual foods that are recommended for their prebiotic content, it’s good to know that at least a couple of commonly eaten items are known for the same: garlic and onions. “A simple way to include some prebiotic foods in your diet is to enjoy sauteed garlic and onions with your favorite veggies,” says registered dietitian Robin Foroutan. “Homemade salsa with plenty of garlic and onion is also a prebiotic powerhouse.”

Read more: The Benefits of Fermented Foods and 5 DIY Recipes

What Do YOU Think?
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What Do YOU Think?

Do you typically eat any of the foods listed here? Are there any that you haven’t heard of or have yet to try? Did any of the foods that made the list surprise you? Do you feel like prebiotic fiber is easy to get in your diet? What changes can you make to up your daily intake?

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