What Are Prebiotics?

Your digestive system is home to trillions of bacteria, both good and bad. Prebiotics are special plant fibers that help healthy bacteria grow in your gut. This makes your digestive system work better.

Where Do You Find Them?

You’ll find prebiotics in many fruits, vegetables, and whole grains like:

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Barley
  • Berries
  • Chicory
  • Garlic
  • Green vegetables
  • Legumes (peas and beans)
  • Oats
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Soybeans
  • Wheat

Some products have added prebiotics. You might hear this called fortified. They include:

When you’re shopping for these products, you probably won’t see the word prebiotic won’t on the label. Instead, look for terms like:

  • Galactooligosaccharides
  • Fructooligosaccharides
  • Oligofructose
  • Chicory fiber
  • Inulin

You can also find prebiotics in dietary supplement form. Babies can get them from their mother’s milk.

How Do They Work?

Prebiotics are carbs your body can’t digest. So they go to your lower digestive tract, where they act like fertilizers to help the healthy bacteria grow. Without prebiotics, good bacteria in your gut suffer.

What Else Can They Do for You?

In addition to feeding your good gut bacteria, prebiotics can:

New studies are looking into whether prebiotics can help manage gut diseases like irritable bowel syndrome, and how they might play a role in controlling obesity.

How to Use Them Safely

Try to get prebiotics from whole foods since they also have healthy vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Some experts say you should get at least 5 grams of prebiotics in your diet every day. Too much can lead to gas or bloating. Start with small amounts so your gut can get used to them.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on July 30, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Prebiotics, Probiotics and Your Health.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Can gut bacteria improve your health?” “Glycemic index for 60+ foods.”

International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics: “Prebiotics.”                                

Colorado State University: “The 10 best food sources of prebiotics.”

International Food Information Council Foundation: “Gut Check: Prebiotics and the Microbiome.”

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