P is for Prebiotics


Olivia Morgan MS, RDN, LDN

Though many know about probiotics and the benefits of these “good for you” bacteria that live in our GI tract, prebiotics are also very beneficial for gut health. Incorporating these functional foods in your diet can help support your gut microbiome. Prebiotics are found in non-digestible fibers of many plant foods and promote growth of probiotics. Prebiotics are fermented in your stomach, and then are used by probiotics almost like a fuel source. Another benefit of prebiotics is that they increase your body’s ability to absorb calcium, which is an essential for bone health. Though the research on the full spectrum of prebiotic benefits is still growing, we do know it has a positive impact on gastrointestinal health. Prebiotics have been shown to improve gut health by decreasing inflammation and severity of GI infections that can cause diarrhea. When fermented, prebiotics generate short chain fatty acids like butyrate, acetate, and proprionate. These short chain fatty acids help strengthen the barrier in your GI tract to prevent the entry of pathogens that may be causing infections and inflammation. Prebiotics have also been shown to improve symptoms in individuals with IBS and ulcerative colitis.

Prebiotics include fructooligosaccharides such as inulin and galactooligosaccharides (say that five times fast!). In other words, foods high in prebiotics include:

  • Leeks

  • Asparagus

  • Onions

  • Artichokes

  • Garlic

Although prebiotics are available as dietary supplements in the form of powder or pills, it is best to get these from whole foods to reap all of the benefits. Using a prebiotic supplement can even lead to gastrointestinal distress including gas, bloating, and pain. As always- food is the best way to go! Increase your intake easily by adding leeks or onions to your dishes. This can be an easy way to not only add great flavor to a dish, but also add prebiotics as well. Artichokes are in season in the winter, so incorporating those while they are in season is another great option. Look to add more asparagus to your diet during the springtime when they are at their peak freshness. Adding prebiotics to your diet can provide a substantial benefit to your gastrointestinal health and overall wellbeing.