The Ultimate Guide to Probiotics and Prebiotics Foods for Better Health

Probiotics and prebiotics have become buzzwords in the health and nutrition world. More and more research is emerging on how these functional foods can benefit digestive health, immune function, and overall wellbeing. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of probiotics and prebiotics foods – what they are, how they work, top food sources, and how to add more into your diet.


Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract hosts trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. This community is referred to as your gut microbiome. Research shows that the makeup of your gut microbiome can significantly impact digestive health, inflammation, metabolism, and even mood and cognitive function. An imbalance in your gut microbiome is linked to many chronic health conditions. Therefore, optimizing the health of your gut microbiome is crucial for overall wellbeing. This is where probiotics and prebiotics come in.

Probiotics are beneficial strains of live bacteria and yeast that provide health benefits when consumed. Prebiotics are non-digestible fibers that feed the good bacteria in your gut. Eating a diet rich in probiotics and prebiotics can help populate your gut with diverse, thriving communities of microorganisms to improve health.

What Are Probiotics?

Probiotics are found in cultured, fermented foods and dietary supplements. When ingested, probiotics take up residence in your body, primarily the colon. The most common strains of probiotics come from two groups:

  • Lactobacillus – found in yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi
  • Bifidobacterium – found in yogurt, kefir, fermented milk drinks

Other common probiotic strains include Bacillus, Streptococcus, Saccharomyces, and Escherichia. Each strain has a slightly different effect. But in general, probiotics benefits can include:

  • Enhanced digestive health – Probiotics can help relieve constipation, diarrhea, IBS symptoms, lactose intolerance, and other digestive issues. They produce beneficial enzymes that help break down food and absorb nutrients. Probiotics also regulate bowel motility.
  • Improved immunity – 70% of immune system cells are located in the GI tract. Probiotics support immune health by crowding out bad bacteria and preventing overgrowth of pathogens. Some strains boost the production of antibodies.
  • Relief of allergies and eczema – Probiotics regulate inflammatory responses in the gut, which influences systemic inflammation. This reduces flare-ups of allergies, eczema, and asthma.
  • Enhanced mood and cognitive function – Your gut and brain are directly connected via the vagus nerve. Probiotics support the production of serotonin and other neurochemicals that regulate emotions, stress response, and cognitive processes like memory and learning.

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that act as food for the probiotics and beneficial bacteria in your gut. They pass through your small intestine undigested until they reach your colon. Once in the colon, your gut bacteria break down and ferment prebiotics, allowing the good bacteria to thrive.

The main categories of prebiotics include:

  • Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) – found in onions, garlic, asparagus, bananas
  • Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) – found in legumes, pulses
  • Inulin – found in chicory, Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, leeks
  • Resistant starch – found in under-ripe bananas, rice, grains, seeds

Consuming prebiotic foods regularly helps:

  • Populate your gut with good bacteria – prebiotics act as fertilizer for probiotics, helping them grow and dominate over disease-causing bacteria.
  • Produce valuable nutrients – the fermentation process of prebiotics by gut flora produces beneficial short-chain fatty acids like butyrate that support gut health.
  • Aid digestion – prebiotics add bulk and moisture to stools, acting as a natural laxative. They also enhance nutrient absorption.
  • Control inflammation – prebiotics lower inflammatory responses in the gut, which helps reduce systemic inflammation as well.
  • Boost immunity – the beneficial metabolites and better gut barrier function provided by prebiotics support enhanced immune responses.

Top Probiotic Foods

Adding more probiotic-rich foods into your regular diet helps supply a diversity of beneficial bacteria straight to your gut. Research recommends eating 5-10 servings of probiotic foods weekly for the best effects. Some top probiotic foods include:


Check the label for “live active cultures” to ensure the yogurt contains actual probiotics, not just added sugars and flavors. Go for plain, unsweetened yogurt and add your own fruit, seeds, nuts, or honey to sweeten if needed. Greek yogurt tends to be higher in protein.


This fermented beverage has a similar tang to yogurt but contains more probiotic strains and is easier for many to digest. Purchase plain kefir and avoid sweetened varieties with added sugar.


Made from fermented cabbage and one of the oldest traditional probiotics. Look for raw, unpasteurized sauerkraut to get the most probiotics. Avoid canned varieties.


Spicy fermented cabbage common in Korean cuisine. Like sauerkraut, go for raw, unpasteurized varieties found in the refrigerated produce section for the most probiotics.


A paste made from fermented soybeans, miso packs gut-healing probiotics. Use it in soups, sauces, dressings, or as a glaze for vegetables or meat.


A slightly fizzy fermented tea, kombucha also contains antioxidants from the tea, vitamins, and a touch of beneficial caffeine. Select raw, refrigerated kombucha to ensure the most probiotics.


Make sure they are true fermented pickles, not just vinegar soaked. Choose raw, refrigerated varieties that still contain live cultures.


Made from fermented soybeans, tempeh is packed with protein and probiotics. Use it in stir fries, chili, sandwiches, and more.


Steamed and fermented soybeans eaten as a traditional Japanese breakfast. It has a sticky, slimy texture and potent aroma.

Best Prebiotic Foods

Focus on incorporating more of these fibre-rich prebiotic foods into meals and snacks daily:


Bananas contain prebiotic-rich resistant starch and inulin. Under ripe bananas contain the most (those with greener peels).

Onions and garlic

Onions and garlic are rich in the prebiotic inulin, which boosts healthy gut bacteria. Eat them raw, roasted, or cooked into recipes.


Apples are a crunchy source of pectin fiber. Pectin acts as a prebiotic by increasing butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that promotes gut health.


A prebiotic-rich vegetable, asparagus is high in inulin. Eat it roasted, sauteed, grilled or raw with dips.


A hearty source of prebiotic beta-glucan fiber. Enjoy oats as overnight oats, stir into muffins and other baked goods, or a bowl of oatmeal.


Flaxseeds provide prebiotic fiber as well as anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids. Sprinkle on yogurt, cereals, salads or smoothies.

Chicory root

Chicory root is over 65% inulin fiber. You can buy it as a coffee substitute or supplement.


Berries like strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries contain prebiotic fiber that feeds healthy gut flora.

Whole grains

Choose whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, barley and oats for prebiotic resistant starch.

Beans, lentils and chickpeas

Legumes are packed with the prebiotic GOS that nourishes good gut bacteria. Eat them in soups, stews, salads and more.

Jerusalem artichoke

This root veggie has 2-3 grams of inulin per 100 gram serving. Enjoy it roasted, mashed or shaved into salads.


Optimizing your microbiome with probiotics and prebiotics foods is an impactful strategy to improve overall health, but your overall wellbeing. Focus on incorporating more probiotic-rich fermented foods as well as prebiotic fiber sources into your regular diet and nutrition plan. Aim for variety to seed your gut with diverse microbes. With a healthy balance of good bacteria, you’ll be primed to thrive both inside and out.

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