25 Best Prebiotic Foods & Supplements

25 Best Prebiotic Foods & Supplements

There’s been a ton of talk about the benefits of probiotics lately and various products such as Kombucha tea are everywhere, but what the heck is a prebiotic and how is it different from a probiotic? Are prebiotics essential to get the optimal benefit from probiotics?  Lastly, do we need to take a prebiotic supplement or can we just get everything we need from our diet?

In this post we’re going to explain what prebiotics are, their biggest benefits, and how to incorporate them into your diet.  We’ll also provide an amazing prebiotic food list pdf and review of the best prebiotic supplements for those who want an added boost in their diet.  

What is the Difference Between Probiotics and Prebiotics?

We previously explained in our post about the best PRObiotic strains for your health that a probiotic is, “live microorganisms which, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a health benefit to the host.”[1]  So what are PREbiotics then?

While probiotics have been researched since 1907, prebiotics had very little attention paid to them until the mid-1990’s.  Probiotics were actually first hypothesized by Russian scientist and Nobel Prize winner, Elie Metchnikoff to be the reason why some Bulgarians living in a specific area were commonly living past the age of 100.  

Intrigued by the connection between reaching an exceptional age and how their health attributed to such a feat, he studied villagers in the Caucasus Mountains who drank fermented yogurt daily.  His research led him to conclude that the probiotic Lactobacillus bulgaricus (which is one of several strains found in our favorite probiotic Ther-biotic Complete by Klaire Labs) may be a major contributing factor to health and longevity.[2]  (Fun fact, this strain has also been linked to the clearing of acne.)

It is hard to believe, but prebiotics were only identified a little over 20 years ago and were first thought to serve only as a nondigestible fiber that assists the growth of microorganisms in the colon. It was not until 2016 and 2017 that the definition of a prebiotic was updated to its current definition to reflect that prebiotics may be helpful throughout the gastrointestinal system, as well as other parts of the body, not just the colon. It was also discovered that prebiotics can consist of a variety of substances or “substrates” (aka any material or substance from which an organism may live, grow, or obtains its nourishment) and not just fiber.[3]

So, while probiotics are the beneficial microorganisms in our GI, prebiotics are the “food” that help fuel the probiotics in order for probiotics to live and thrive.  

What Exactly are Prebiotics?

The current definition is:

A substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit.[4]

Over the past few years, the definition of prebiotics has expanded from just being thought of as fiber fueling bacteria in the colon, to any compound that may be used by the microorganisms (aka the probiotics) to improve health.  While many prebiotic substrates are non-digestible (just like fiber!), not all forms of fiber are considered a prebiotic. The main concept to remember is that the substrate must assist in the growth and survival of beneficial gut bacteria.   So, if it is a form of fiber or some other substrate that feeds the growth or fermentation of bacteria that is not of human health benefit, then it is not considered a prebiotic.

Below you will find the most common examples of prebiotic substrates that we consume regularly in foods such as onions, garlic, and bananas:[5]

  • Inulin (a form of dietary fiber, not to be mistaken for insulin!)
  • Oligofructose (a subgroup of nondigestible inulin fiber)
  • Fructooligosaccharides (a nondigestible carbohydrate)

Long story short, most any non-digestible food particles that assist the health, growth, and survival beneficial microorganisms is essentially considered a prebiotic!  

What are the Benefits of Taking Prebiotics?

The healthy bacteria in our gut, AKA the probiotic microorganisms, are living in a harsh, harsh environment.  This environment is naturally acidic in order to break down food particles for digestion and secretion. Surviving in this harsh environment is challenging, but it is truly essential to our health. Without a gut or microbiome of flourishing healthy microorganisms, our health can significantly decline and we are prone to a whole host of health issues i.e. feeling sluggish, inability to recover from workouts, increased frequency of illness from colds and the risk for autoimmune disease.  

Therefore, making sure to eat a diet full of probiotic rich microorganisms i.e. fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi, etc. as well as taking a great probiotic is crucial.  However, to get the most out of a probiotic and your consumption of fermented foods, the rest of your diet needs to be balanced to create a supportive environment for probiotic survival.  Remember, having healthy gut bacteria and a thriving microbiome requires long-term consistent effort. You can’t expect to grow a “forest” of healthy bacteria in your gut by just planting a few saplings, watering them once or twice and then eating cheese puffs.  

(Interested in learning more about fermented foods?  Check out our post on the 9 Best Fermented Foods for Athletes and 7 Amazing Benefits of Eating Fermented Foods)

In addition to avoiding processed foods that make for a less favorable environment for microorganism survival, including foods with prebiotic substrates and a prebiotic supplement (when needed), can significantly improve the growth, health, and survival of healthy gut bacteria.  When this is done, overall health significantly improves.

And I don’t mean just a minor improvement in health, I mean A MAJOR improvement.  When gut health improves, almost every single element of health improves.  With improved digestion comes decreased fatigue, less headaches and joint pain, a decreased risk for food sensitivities, improved muscle recovery, improved immune system function, decreased frequency of illness, and so on.  You get the idea.

You can actually improve the short and long term survival of probiotics by including prebiotics. You are also more likely to experience the profound benefits of probiotics and a healthy microbiome.  

What are the Best Prebiotic Foods?

When looking for the best prebiotic foods, it is important to note there are 8 categories of prebiotics that have evidence to support better health.  While fructooligosaccharides, inulin, and galactooligosaccharides are the most commonly mentioned and researched, beta-glucans. isomaltooligosaccharides, guar gum, lactulose, and resistant maltodextrin have been found to be beneficial forms of prebiotics as well.[6] However, guar gum, a common additive used as a thickening agent, as well as isomaltooligosaccharides and lactulose, common artificial sweetener food additives, are a bit more debatable as to their benefits. As a result, we will leave them out of our list of the best prebiotic foods.

There are several subgroups of prebiotics such as oligofructose which is a subgroup of inulin and galactose which is a subunit of galactooligosaccharides.  To keep things simple, we will focus on organizing according to main categories. So, here are the best prebiotic foods broken down by the type of prebiotics they contain (note, some foods contain more than one type of prebiotic and appear in multiple lists.) [7, 8, 9]

Best Prebiotic Foods:

Beta-glucans

  1. Mushrooms
  2. Algae
  3. Marine plants such as seaweed
  4. Oat
  5. Barley

Fructooligosaccharides

  1. Jerusalem artichoke
  2. Yacon
  3. Blue Agave
  4. Bananas
  5. Onions
  6. Garlic
  7. Leeks
  8. Chicory root
  9. Asparagus

Galactooligosaccharides

  1. Green peas
  2. Lentils
  3. Lima beans
  4. Chickpeas and chickpea related products such as hummus
  5. Kidney beans

Inulin

  1. Onions
  2. Garlic
  3. Bananas
  4. Leeks
  5. Chicory root
  6. Sweet potato/yams (Read about the difference)
  7. Jerusalem Artichokes (Read about how they’re different from other artichokes)
  8. Globe artichoke
  9. Jicama
  10. Leeks
  11. Agave
  12. Raw Dandelion Greens
  13. Yacon root

Looking for a handy list to print for your fridge, download, or carry with you to the hospital?  Download and print our free prebiotic food list pdf for an easy guide:

infographic prebiotic food list

Novel Ideas for Incorporating Prebiotics in Your Diet

Now that you know the best prebiotic foods, you might be wondering how to incorporate them into your diet.  We understand that many of these foods may seem foreign to you. To assist in the process of incorporating these foods into your diet,  here are 10 ways to incorporate more prebiotics into your diet:

  1. Mix prebiotic powder such as Prebiotin Fiber or Thorne Prebiotic Fiber Powder into a smoothie.
  2. Chop and sprinkle fresh leeks or chives on your eggs, potatoes or pat it into your burger patty for an extra burst of flavor.
  3. Top your salad with dandelion greens.
  4. Make sure to include kidney beans in your chili.
  5. Slice, season, and bake jicama then sprinkle on top of tacos.
  6. Slice, season and bake for a healthier alternative to french fries with your sandwich. Check out these jicama fries.
  7. Try a little sweet potato toast in the morning.
  8. Add fresh banana to your oats in the morning, a 2 for one!!!
  9. Sautee your asparagus in a pan of fresh garlic and onion- a 3 for one!!
  10. Make a delicious lentil soup. Perfect for a reheat and eat!

What is the Best Prebiotic Supplement?

We always encourage limiting supplement intake and focusing on pursuing optimal health through lifestyle changes and a whole food diet.  However, maybe you find most high prebiotic foods aversive, you work a crazy schedule and are struggling to modify your diet, your gut took a massive blow of antibiotics and you’re looking to reseed things, or your spouse is disgusted by them (such as onions, garlic, or asparagus) and won’t let you eat or cook them in their presence.  Whatever the reason, there are situations when a great prebiotic supplement is beneficial.

The research comparing prebiotic supplements is limited, so determining a single best prebiotic supplement with 3rd party lab testing for purity does not exist… yet.  However, there is substantial research to support several types of prebiotics, and a few reputable companies have created great products. Three prebiotic supplements to consider are Prebiotin Premier Prebiotic Fiber powder, Klaire Labs Biotagen, and Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Organic Prebiotic Superfood Supplement.

Prebiotin Premier Prebiotic Fiber is made by Jackson GI Medical, which focuses on making one thing, prebiotics.  This is a great choice for just about everyone. They complete third-party research and testing of their products and there is substantial research supporting the type of prebiotic they use in their product, Oligofructose-Enriched-Inulin, or OEI.  Research findings include:

  • Reduction of volatile organic compounds, a marker used to analyze metabolism which is often elevated in persons with celiac disease[10]
  • Increased bone formation and decreased bone resorption as well as improved vitamin D and E  in children with ceiliac disease on a gluten-free diet[11, 12]
  • Improved inflammatory markers in women type 2 diabetes[13]

The Prebiotin team claims the prebioitc they use in their produced, OEI is,  “the most-researched prebiotic, used in many university and clinical studies.”[14] They further state, “Prebiotic is currently involved in several clinical studies using their product. Two are funded by the NIH, and results will be reported on our website when allowed, per NIH release guidelines.”[15]   

Klaire Labs Biotagen is made by arguably the most trusted name in probiotics and is likely your best choice if you want to buy from a highly reputable company.  If they know how to make amazing probiotics, I trust them to make amazing prebiotics too. Available in both prebiotic powder and prebioitc capsules, Klaire Labs uses a prebiotic blend of Inulin derived from chicory root, beta-glucan from saccharomyces cerevisiae (an ancient yeast and the one most commonly used in food fermentation), and Larch Arabinogalactan (a immune-enhancing fiber).  Research on the types of prebiotics in Klaire Labs Biotagen includes:

  • Inulin prebiotics have been shown to stimulate the growth of the beneficial probiotic Bifidobacteria species.[16]
  • Chicory inulin in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study on subjects with constipation found increased stool softening, frequency, and consistency as well as “higher satisfaction” (I’m not joking) compared to those taking a placebo.[17]
  • Saccharomyces cerevisiae has been shown to stimulate healthy gut bacteria, improve food nutritional value, inhibit the production of degrading enzymes and undesired microorganisms (aka bad gut bacteria).[18]  
  • Larch arabinogalactan has been found to be immune enhancing including decreasing the duration of a cold, increase the production of healthy fatty acids, enhance the beneficial gut microorganisms of Bifidobacteria and Lactobacillus which are commonly found in probiotics, and inhibit metastasis of tumor cells in the liver.[19, 20]

If you’re trying to decide whether to get the powder or the capsules, keep this in mind: to achieve one full daily serving with the capsules, 4 need to be taken.  Also, if you’re looking for the absolute best price on professional grade supplements, our insider tip is to check out Wellevate.  They do not provide direct product links so you will need to search for them on their page, but Wellevate has shown to consistently have much lower prices than anywhere else online.  Additionally, because they only stock professional grade brands and have screened each product for purity, you can trust what you’re buying.    

Garden of Life Dr. Formulated Organic Prebiotic Superfood Supplement is the best choice if you’re an athlete who may be drug tested.  Is there a chance of a banned substance being in other professional grade prebiotics? Probably not. But when your career is on the line, why risk it?  The Garden of Life Prebiotic Superfood Supplement is NSF Certified for Sport meaning every single batch has been tested and verified to be clean of all banned substances.  Filled with an “Organic Prebiotic Fiber Blend” of acacia fiber, orange peel, baobab, apple peel, and cranberry seed, this prebiotic supplement has 4 grams of soluble fiber and excellent reviews on Amazon.  

Pro Tip: Many high-quality probiotics such as Klaire Labs Ther-biotic Complete Probiotic include prebiotics to boost their supplement.  For example, Ther-biotic Complete Probiotic (Check Wellevate for the best prices) includes 280 mg of inulin derived from chicory root.  So, be sure to read the label of your probiotic and consider buying from one that includes both. If you do not experience gut issues, our recommendation is to focus on simply taking a probiotic with a prebiotic built in it, but discuss the idea of a prebiotic with a dietitian or your doctor if you do have fatigue or gut issues. You may be able to kill two birds with one stone by simply switching to a higher-quality probiotic!

The Last Word on Prebiotics

While not as in depth or as substantial as the research on probiotics, the research to support prebiotics and their benefits is now a “well-established scientific fact”.  Prebiotics have been found to improve the microbiota (gut) composition, decrease inflammation, improve immune system function, improve bowel function, and assist in improving health in many many other ways from decreasing the metastasizing of liver tumors to colic in babies.[21]

Now that you know all about the benefits of prebiotics, its time to read about the best probiotic strains, the best time to take a probiotic to get the most out of it, and find the top rated probiotic to fit your individual needs.  If you enjoyed this article and would like to improve the health of a friend or family member, please share this article and our blog!  Also, if you’d like to get a closer glimpse of what we’re up to or discover fun facts on how to improve your health, check us out on Instagram under the name FWDfuel.     

References:

  1. http://www.fao.org/3/a-a0512e.pdf
  2. https://www.optibacprobiotics.co.uk/learning-lab/blog/history-of-probiotics
  3. https://isappscience.org/prebiotics/
  4. https://isappscience.org/prebiotics/
  5. https://4cau4jsaler1zglkq3wnmje1-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Prebiotics_Infographic_rev1029.pdf
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6041804/pdf/nzy005.pdf
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6041804/pdf/nzy005.pdf
  8. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jf970087g
  9. https://www.prebiotin.com/prebiotin-academy/what-are-prebiotics/ogliofructose-enriched-inulin/
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30959740
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30840918
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30445682
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24332524
  14. https://prebiotin.net/collections/our-products/products/prebiotin-prebiotic-fiber
  15. https://www.prebiotin.com/about-us/research-about-prebiotin/
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19152479
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27492975
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12702452
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27073407
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10231609
  21. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20920376

About The Author

Michael Bogden

Michael is a residency and fellowship trained sports physical therapist. A life long advocate for exercise and nutrition, he unexpectedly ran into issues with fatigue and recovery which significantly hindered his training. After working closely with his wife, Kylene, a dietitian trained in functional nutrition, he learned an entirely new approach to eating and living a more holistic lifestyle. This dramatic life change lead to remarkable improvement in his overall energy and performance. In 2017, with the help of a Functional Sports Nutrition approach, he improved his half marathon PR by 5 minutes. These improvements inspired him to create the FWDfuel blog with Kylene in order to spread the word so that others could experience the same success.

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