Most people have finally caught on to the health benefits of probiotics. These little bugs are critical to our immune, brain, and gut health, and when we allow bad bacteria, like candida, to thrive and kill off the good bacteria, it can result in numerous health conditions, from leaky gut to vaginal yeast infections.
What many people don’t realize, however, is that we need prebiotics just as much as we need probiotics.
Prebiotics are a non-digestible fiber compound found in plant foods. And just like other high-fiber foods, they pass through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract, undigested, because the human body can’t fully break them down. Once they pass through the small intestine, they reach the colon, where they’re then fermented by gut microflora. This fermented substance then becomes fuel for probiotics, to help them continue to thrive and multiply.
By consuming both prebiotics and probiotics, you can achieve the best results for your microbiome—and total body—health, including improved digestion, cancer protection, lowered inflammation, reduced risk for heart disease, help with weight loss or maintenance, protection of bone health, hormone regulation, and improved moods.
Following are the top prebiotic foods that will keep those probiotics fed and flourishing. One note, though: The composition of prebiotic foods (and other high-fiber foods) changes when cooked, so you’ll find that, for the most part, the recommendation is to eat prebiotic foods raw.
Raw Jerusalem artichoke
Jerusalem artichokes (also called sunchokes) actually have nothing to do with the traditional artichokes their name evokes. Instead, they’re more similar to root vegetables in texture and appearance. That said, they do taste similar to an artichoke heart—hence the name. To get the beneficial prebiotics of Jerusalem artichokes, try sprinkling some on a salad, or blending them into your favorite dip.
Raw dandelion greens
Did you know that you can actually find dandelion greens in most grocery stores and nearly all health food stores? Although they might not be the first thing you think to throw in your shopping cart, dandelion greens are a great source of prebiotics in addition to antioxidants, vitamins (especially vitamins A and K), and minerals. Eat them raw by finely chopping them and adding some to a salad or side dish.
Raw garlic may be one of the easiest ways to get your daily dose of prebiotics and a ton of other health benefits, as garlic has powerful antifungal, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiviral properties. To consume raw, try blending it in dips, spreads, or homemade hummus.
Raw or cooked onions
Another easy and delicious way to add prebiotics to your meals is by including onions in all of your savory dishes. Cooked or raw, onions give plenty of flavor to your food while also provide immune-enhancing antioxidants and, of course, prebiotics. Additionally, onions are a natural source of inulin, a type of good bacteria that fights indigestion.
Jicama (also called yambean) is a type of root vegetable that is often described as a cross between an apple and a turnip. Yet even though jicama is a root vegetable, it’s low in starch, sugar, and carbs. It also stands out as a high-fiber food, providing about 25 percent of your daily fiber recommendations in one cup and containing the prebiotic called oligofructose inulin. You can shred some jicama onto a salad, add it to your smoothie, or slice it into sticks and dip it into hummus or guacamole.
Raw asparagus, an excellent source of prebiotics, may not sound so appetizing, but I love shaving them into salads with a vegetable peeler for a change of texture. I also like fermenting asparagus, which softens them just a bit but without impacting their prebiotic content. Still need other reasons to load up on raw asparagus? This vegetable is said to nourish the digestive tract, act as a natural diuretic, contribute to a healthy pregnancy, and more.
Bananas that aren’t fully ripe have the most resistant starch and prebiotics. When shopping for prebiotic-rich bananas, look for the ones that are still green at the tips, instead of bright yellow and spotted. They won’t be as soft or sweet, but they’ll still taste great in a smoothie or eaten alone as a snack.
Probiotics and prebiotics are also available as dietary supplements, but it’s important to remember that this shouldn’t take priority over eating a well-balanced diet. Supplementing with a quality probiotic supplement that also includes prebiotics can be beneficial, but getting prebiotics from real foods is always the best option and incredibly easy with this list of the top prebiotic foods.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He recently authored ‘Eat Dirt: Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and Five Surprising Steps to Cure It’ and he operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites at http://www.DrAxe.com. Follow him on Twitter @DRJoshAxe.