Prebiotics are a form of dietary fiber that feed the “friendly” bacteria in your gut.
This allows your gut bacteria to produce nutrients for your colon cells, which leads to a healthier digestive system.
Some of these nutrients include short-chain fatty acids like butyrate, acetate, and propionate.
These fatty acids can be absorbed into your bloodstream and improve metabolic health.
However, prebiotics shouldn’t be confused with probiotics.
Probiotics are live bacteria found in certain foods or supplements. To learn more about the difference between prebiotics and probiotics, read this article:
Read on to explore 19 healthy prebiotic foods to add to your grocery list.
1. Chicory root
Chicory root comes from a flowering plant in the dandelion family. It’s popular for its coffee-like flavor and has historically been used in cooking and medicine.
It’s also a great source of prebiotics.
Approximately 68% of chicory root fiber comes from the prebiotic fiber inulin. Inulin in chicory root improves digestion and bowel function and helps relieve constipation.
It may also help prevent diabetes by raising levels of adiponectin, a protein that helps control blood glucose levels.
Additionally, chicory root is high in antioxidant compounds that may protect your liver from oxidative damage.
Summary: Chicory root is often used as a caffeine-free coffee replacement. Its inulin fiber promotes friendly gut bacteria, reduces constipation, and can help control glucose levels.
2. Dandelion greens
Dandelions are a family of flowering plants, and their greens can be cooked or consumed raw. They’re a great source of fiber.
They contain 1.92 grams of fiber per 1 cup (55 grams). A high portion of this fiber comes from inulin.
The inulin fiber in dandelion greens reduces constipation, increases friendly bacteria in your gut, and boosts your immune system.
Dandelion greens are also known for their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anticancer effects.
Summary: Dandelion greens are a fiber-rich substitute for greens in your salad. They increase the friendly bacteria in your gut, reduce constipation, and boost your immune system.
3. Jerusalem artichoke
The Jerusalem artichoke — also known as the sunroot, sunchoke, or earth apple — is part of the sunflower family and has great health benefits.
Known for its sunflower-like appearance, the vegetable provides about 2 grams of inulin-rich dietary fiber per 100 grams.
Inulin helps increase the friendly bacteria in your colon, promoting greater digestive health. It can also aid in the absorption of minerals in your large intestine.
Adding Jerusalem artichokes to your diet may help strengthen your immune system, lower cholesterol, and even prevent certain metabolic disorders.
The Jerusalem artichoke is also high in thiamin or vitamin B1. Thiamin deficiency can lead to fatigue and abnormal muscle function.
Summary: Jerusalem artichoke, or sunroot, can be eaten cooked or raw. It helps boost your immune system and prevent metabolic disease.
Garlic is a flavorful herb linked to various health benefits due to its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and lipid-lowering properties.
Garlic acts as a prebiotic by promoting the growth of beneficial Bifidobacteria in the gut. It also helps prevent disease-promoting bacteria from growing.
Research shows that different compounds in garlic reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, have anti-tumor effects, and lower blood glucose levels.
According to an animal study, garlic’s anti-inflammatory properties may even protect against the effects of asthma. More research is needed to confirm this.
Summary: Garlic is a tasty herb with prebiotic benefits. It is proven to help promote good bacteria and prevent harmful bacteria from growing.
Onions are a tasty and versatile vegetable linked to various health benefits. Similar to garlic, onions are rich in inulin and FOS.
FOS strengthens gut flora, helps with fat breakdown, and boosts your immune system by increasing nitric oxide production in cells.
Onions are also rich in flavonoid quercetin, which gives onions antioxidant and anticancer properties.
Additionally, onions have antibiotic properties and may provide benefits for your cardiovascular system.
Summary: Onions are rich in inulin and FOS, which can help boost your immune system, provide fuel for your gut bacteria, and improve digestion.
Leeks come from the same family as onions and garlic, and they offer similar health benefits.
Leeks are nutrient-dense, which means they’re low in calories but high in vitamins and minerals. Thanks to their inulin content, leeks promote healthy gut bacteria and help break down fat.
Leeks contain a high amount of vitamin K, which promotes blood clotting. 1 leek (89 grams) contains 42 mcg (35% of the daily value).
Summary: Leeks are a nutrient-dense vegetable often used in cooking for their distinct flavor. They are high in prebiotic inulin fiber and vitamin K.
Asparagus is a popular vegetable and another great source of prebiotics.
The nutritious vegetable naturally contains inulin, which can improve your digestive health and help your body maintain optimum levels of glucose and insulin.
Inulin is also a soluble fiber, which feeds the friendly bacteria in the gut, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus.
Asparagus has been linked to the prevention of certain cancers, and in vitro and animal studies show its combination of fiber and antioxidants also provides anti-inflammatory benefits.
Summary: Asparagus is a popular vegetable rich in prebiotic fiber and antioxidants. It promotes healthy gut bacteria and may help prevent certain cancers.
Bananas are more than a delicious fruit: They’re rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and they contain small amounts of inulin.
Unripe (green) bananas are high in resistant starch, which has prebiotic effects.
Plus, one medium-sized banana (about 7 to 8 inches long) is only 105 calories and contains approximately 3 grams of fiber and 422 mg of potassium.
Summary: Bananas are rich in fiber. They also contain vitamins, minerals, and small amounts of inulin.
Barley is a popular cereal grain and is used to make beer. It contains 2–20 grams of beta-glucan per 100 grams.
Beta-glucan is a prebiotic fiber that promotes the growth of friendly bacteria in your digestive tract.
The beta-glucan in barley has also been shown to lower total and LDL (bad) cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. It may also help lower blood sugar levels.
One study found that barley beta-glucan improved metabolism in mice through both suppression of appetite and improvement of insulin sensitivity.
Plus, barley is rich in selenium. This helps with thyroid function, provides antioxidant benefits, and boosts your immune system.
Summary: Barley is high in beta-glucan fiber, which promotes healthy bacteria in the gut. It can also lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Whole oats are a healthy grain with prebiotic benefits. They contain large amounts of beta-glucan fiber, as well as some resistant starch.
Beta-glucan from oats has been linked to:
- healthy gut bacteria
- lower LDL (bad) cholesterol
- better blood sugar control
- reduced cancer risk
Furthermore, it has been shown to slow digestion and help control appetite.
Summary: Whole oats are a grain rich in beta-glucan fiber. They increase healthy gut bacteria, improve blood sugar control, and may reduce cancer risk.
Apples are a delicious fruit with fiber. Pectin, a type of soluble fiber, accounts for much of an apple’s total fiber content. The pectin in apples has prebiotic benefits.
Suggested read: Probiotics and prebiotics: What’s the difference?
A 2016 study found that pectin from apples could promote healthy gut microbiota, decrease inflammation, and suppress weight gain and fat accumulation in rats with obesity.
Pectin increases butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that feeds beneficial gut bacteria and decreases the population of harmful bacteria.
More research is needed to fully explore the benefits of pectin in humans.
Research shows that in addition to their prebiotic benefits, apples can improve heart health and may even reduce your risk of asthma and other pulmonary disorders.
Summary: Apples are rich in pectin fiber. Pectin promotes healthy gut bacteria and helps decrease harmful bacteria.
12. Konjac root
Konjac root, also known as elephant yam, is a tuber — or a vegetable grown underground, like the potato.
The plant has been used for centuries in Asia as food and medicine, and it’s often used as a dietary supplement for its health benefits.
Flour made from this tuber contains 70-90% glucomannan fiber, a highly viscous dietary fiber.
Konjac glucomannan promotes the growth of friendly bacteria in your colon and may help relieve constipation.
Glucomannan has also been shown to lower blood cholesterol and help with weight loss — all while improving carbohydrate metabolism.
You can consume it in the form of foods made with konjac root, such as shirataki noodles. You can also take glucomannan supplements.
Summary: The glucomannan fiber found in konjac root helps promote friendly gut bacteria, reduces constipation, and helps with weight loss. It can be consumed in foods made with the konjac root, like shirataki noodles.
Cocoa beans are seeds from the Theobrama cacao tree. Not only are they used to making chocolate, but they’re delicious and healthy.
Cocoa powder, created by crushing cocoa beans and removing the fat or coca butter, makes it easy to add cocoa to oatmeal, smoothies, yogurt, and other recipes.
Cocoa and its products are rich sources of polyphenols such as flavanols, which exert antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Suggested read: 7 science-backed health benefits of seaweed
These compounds also help grow beneficial gut bacteria while reducing the growth of harmful bacteria.
While research shows that cocoa products can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, it’s important to take this information with a grain of salt — most chocolate products still contain large amounts of sugar.
Summary: Cocoa is tasty prebiotic food. It contains flavanols that increase healthy gut bacteria while reducing harmful bacteria.
14. Burdock root
Burdock root is a vegetable commonly used in Japan and has proven health benefits.
It contains about 1.8 grams of fiber per 100 grams (3.5 ounces).
Burdock root is rich in inulin and FOS, which support the growth of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract.
Burdock root also contains phenolic compounds, which give them their antioxidant properties.
Summary: Burdock root is widely consumed in Japan. It contains fiber and inulin, which support the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut.
Flaxseeds are incredibly healthy. They’re also a great source of prebiotics.
The fiber in flaxseeds promotes healthy gut bacteria, encourages regular bowel movements, and reduces the amount of dietary fat you digest and absorb.
Because they contain phenolic antioxidants, flaxseeds also have anti-cancer and antioxidant properties and help regulate blood sugar levels.
Summary: The fiber in flaxseeds promotes regular bowel movements, lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol, and reduces the amount of fat you digest and absorb.
16. Yacon root
Yacon root is a vegetable very similar to sweet potatoes that is rich in fiber.
It is particularly rich in prebiotic FOS and inulin.
The inulin in yacon has been shown to:
- improve gut bacteria
- reduce constipation
- enhance the immune system
- improve mineral absorption
- regulate blood fats
Yacon also contains phenolic compounds that give it antioxidant properties.
Summary: Yacon root is rich in inulin and FOS, which makes it great at promoting digestive health, improving mineral absorption, and enhancing your immune system.
17. Jicama root
Jicama root is low in calories and high in fiber, including the prebiotic fiber inulin.
Suggested read: The 17 best foods to relieve constipation
In animal studies, jicama root was shown to help improve digestive health, enhance insulin sensitivity, and lower blood sugar levels.
Additionally, it is high in vitamin C, which helps your immune system fight illnesses.
Summary: Jicama root is low in calories but rich in inulin. It can improve your digestive health, help control blood sugar levels, and strengthen your immune system.
18. Wheat bran
Wheat bran is the outer layer of the whole wheat grain. It’s an excellent source of prebiotics. It also contains a special type of fiber made of arabinoxylan oligosaccharides (AXOS).
AXOS fiber from wheat bran has been shown to boost healthy Bifidobacteria in the gut.
One study in healthy adults found that increased wheat bran consumption over 3 weeks led to an increase in Bifidobacteria counts, compared with a control group.
Wheat bran has also been shown to reduce digestive problems such as gas, cramping, and abdominal pain.
Grains rich in AXOS also have antioxidant and anticancer effects.
Summary: Wheat bran is rich in AXOS, a type of fiber that has been shown to increase healthy gut bacteria and reduce digestive problems.
Seaweed is a form of marine algae with surprising health benefits.
The versatile food is rich in prebiotics and can be used in dishes like sushi rolls, soups and stews, salads, supplements, and smoothies.
Seaweed is rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and polysaccharides, which play a role in benefitting the immune system.
Approximately 50–85% of seaweed’s fiber content comes from soluble fiber.
Lab studies have shown that polysaccharides found in seaweed can increase the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which nourish the cells lining your gut.
More human research is needed to explore the full benefits of seaweed.
Summary: Seaweed is a great source of prebiotic fiber. It can increase the population of friendly bacteria, block the growth of harmful bacteria, and enhance immune function.
Prebiotic foods are high in special types of fiber that support digestive health.
They promote the increase of friendly bacteria in the gut, help with various digestive problems, and even boost your immune system.
Prebiotic foods have also been shown to improve metabolic health and even help prevent certain diseases.
Since the fiber content of these foods may be altered during cooking, try to consume them raw rather than cooked to gain full health benefits.
With a variety of options available, you can take your time to find the best prebiotic foods for yourself and your gut.