The top 5 foods rich in prebiotics, according to scientists

Growing evidence suggests that consuming prebiotics, types of fiber that stimulate gut bacteria, can promote a healthy gut microbiome. One study highlighted foods such as dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks and onions as particularly rich in prebiotic content and essential for microbiome well-being and fiber intake.

Consuming more of these foods can improve your gut health.

More and more research suggests that eating prebiotics, specific types of fiber normally present in plants that promote good gut bacteria, contributes to a balanced gut microbiome. In a recent study, researchers evaluated prebiotic levels in numerous food varieties, referencing existing studies to determine which foods offer the highest prebiotic content.

Main foods rich in prebiotics identified

According to the study, the foods that contain the highest prebiotic impact are dandelion leaves, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks and onions. In addition to supporting gut microbes, prebiotic-rich foods contain high amounts of fiber, something most Americans don’t get enough of.

Cassandra Boyd

Researcher Cassandra Boyd holds garlic and onion, two foods that the study found to be rich in prebiotics. Credit: Cassandra Boyd

Eating foods rich in prebiotics has been shown by previous research to be beneficial to health, said Cassandra Boyd, a master’s student at San Jos State University who conducted the research with assistant professor John Gieng, Ph.D. Eating in a way that promotes well-being Being in the microbiome while consuming more fiber may be more attainable and affordable than you think.

Boyd recently presented the findings at NUTRITION 2023, the flagship annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, held in July 2225 in Boston.

Prebiotics vs. Probiotics

Prebiotics, which can be considered foods for the microbiome, are different from probiotics, which contain live microorganisms. Both can potentially benefit microbiome health, but they work in different ways.

Studies have linked a higher intake of prebiotics with better blood glucose regulation, better absorption of minerals such as calcium and markers of improved digestive and immune function. Although most dietary guidelines do not currently specify a recommended daily dose of prebiotics, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, a nonprofit scientific organization that established the currently maintained definition of prebiotics, recommends an intake of 5 grams per day.

Detailed study results

For the study, researchers used previously published scientific findings to analyze the prebiotic content of 8,690 foods contained in the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies, a resource that many scientists use to study nutrition and health.

It turned out that about 37% of the foods in the database contained prebiotics. Dandelion leaves, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, leeks and onions had the highest amounts, ranging from about 100-240 milligrams of prebiotics per gram of food (mg/g). Other prebiotic-rich foods include onion rings, cream of onion, cowpeas, asparagus and Kelloggs All-Bran cereal, each containing about 50-60 mg/g.

Findings from our preliminary literature review suggest that onions and related foods contain multiple forms of prebiotics, leading to greater total prebiotic content, Boyd said. Multiple forms of onion and related foods appear in a variety of dishes, both as a condiment and a main ingredient. These foods are commonly consumed by Americans and therefore would be a viable target for people to increase their prebiotic consumption.

Based on the team’s findings, Boyd said a person would need to consume approximately half of a small onion (120 grams) to obtain 5 grams of prebiotics.

Items that contain wheat are ranked lower on the list. Foods with little or no prebiotic content include dairy products, eggs, oils and meats.

The researchers hope the study will provide a foundation to help other scientists evaluate the health impacts of prebiotics and inform future dietary guidelines. They noted that more research is needed to understand how cooking affects prebiotic content and to better evaluate foods that contain multiple ingredients.

Reference: Determining the Prebiotic Content of Foods in the Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies (FNDDS) 2015-2016 by Cassandra Boyd and John Gieng, July 22, 2023, NUTRITION 2023.

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