Prebiotics: What Are They And Why Should You Care?

what are prebiotics


You’ve probably heard about probiotics – the friendly bacteria that you can get in yogurt or  an over-the-counter supplement. However, what isn’t as popular in the mainstream are prebiotics, the food that probiotics actually need to thrive.

If you want to improve your digestion – whether it’s to feel less bloated or relieve constipation – it’s important to understand that prebiotics and probiotics go hand in hand, and both of them should be incorporated into your diet.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are a form of fibre that act as a fertilizer for probiotics – they nourish, protect and help probiotics grow in the gut. You can find them naturally in whole foods, or as an added ingredient in supplements and packaged foods.

Of course, the optimal way to increase your intake is through your diet.

Some common forms of prebiotics are:
  • Bran
  • Psyllium husk
  • Resistant starch
  • Inulin
  • Oligosaccharides

Exciting list, right?

Fortunately, you don’t need to eat All-Bran cereal every morning or add scoops of psyllium husk to your smoothie. There’s plenty of delicious whole foods that contain prebiotics in the resistant starch and inulin categories listed above.

prebiotic food list

Try to incorporate one or two of these foods into your diet each day – you should notice the benefit within a few weeks.

However, keep in mind that if you’re not used to eating so much plant-based fibre, your body will take a bit of time to adjust and might feel gassier initially. To ease your body into eating more prebiotics, eat these foods in small quantities and keep drinking plenty of water throughout the day as well.

Resistant starch

Most carbohydrates contain starch, but some of them are resistant to digestion. Hence the term, resistant starch. Research shows that resistant starch can decrease fat storage, help balance blood sugar, lower bad cholesterol and increase satiety. [1]

Unfortunately, heating or cooking these foods destroys most of the resistant starch. But, you can ‘recapture’ the resistant starch by allowing the foods to cool after cooking.

Foods containing resistant starch include: 

  • Oats (make overnight oats)
  • Brown rice
  • Whole grains e.g. quinoa, millet
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Green bananas
  • Potatoes

This is a soluble fibre that absorbs water and takes up quite a bit of room when eaten – a good thing, since it makes you feel full and also helps stool form more easily.

Foods containing inulin include: 

  • Chicory root and dandelion root
    • Both of these are very high in inulin, but let’s be real, I don’t know how many people will eat them in their whole form. A fantastic, realistic way to consume both dandelion and chicory is Dandy Blend, a drink that may people have as a coffee substitute in the morning.
  • Asparagus
  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Bananas
  • Plantains
  • Garlic
  • Artichokes
  • Yams
  • Jicama

Prebiotics and fodmaps

If the list of foods above make you extremely gassy, or give you cramps, you might be sensitive to FODMAPS. Unfortunately, some people tend to struggle with prebiotic foods such as beans, legumes, onions, and garlic, or even the addition of prebiotic ingredients to supplements, such as inulin or FOS.

If that sounds like you, read this article to learn more.

About Alina

I'm a Holistic Nutritionist based in Toronto, Canada and my official title is Certified Nutritional Practitioner (CNP). I received my diploma in Applied Holistic Nutrition from the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. I'm a coach and an educator. Follow Alina on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram for all of the latest updates.
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