Natural Probiotic and Prebiotic Foods

By Lizzie Streit, MS, RDN, LD 

If you follow nutrition-related news, you’ve probably seen countless headlines about probiotics and gut bacteria over the years.  

As more and more research unfolds, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that a healthy gut is critical to maintaining optimal health. And to get a healthy gut, you need a good balance of gut bacteria. 

But what does that really mean, anyway? Do you need to take a supplement with healthy bacteria, or can certain foods help your gut bacteria thrive?  

Read on to learn about probiotics and prebiotics, and what kinds of foods you should eat for a healthy gut.  

What are probiotics and prebiotics? 

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that reside in your gut and are also found in certain foods and supplements.  

Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates that feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. Consuming both probiotics and prebiotics can help you achieve a good balance of gut bacteria.  

What are the roles of gut bacteria?  

Keeping the good bacteria in your gut alive and healthy can have several benefits.  

For one, having the right kind of gut bacteria is critical for optimal immune function and good digestion. A healthy gut may also decrease your risk of developing certain diseases, such as colon cancer, heart disease, and diabetes (1234). 

In addition, poor gut health may actually contribute to weight gain and obesity (45). 

Food Sources of Probiotics and Prebiotics 

In light of the beneficial roles that bacteria play in the body, you may think that taking a probiotic supplement is the best way to ensure that you’re getting enough healthy bacteria.  

However, supplements are not always the best option. There are so many different strains of probiotics, and without knowing which ones will work best for you, it’s likely better to consume a variety of probiotics from natural sources instead. 

What’s more, most people overlook the importance of consuming enough prebiotics to feed existing gut bacteria and any probiotics you get from foods. Some probiotic supplements do not include prebiotics. 

To incorporate a variety of probiotics and prebiotics into your diet, be sure to eat foods from both of the following lists. 

Probiotic food sources include: 

  • Kefir 

  • Yogurt 

  • Sauerkraut 

  • Kimchi 

  • Kombucha 

  • Miso paste 

Prebiotic food sources include: 

  • Onions 

  • Garlic 

  • Leeks 

  • Bananas 

  • Berries 

  • Legumes 

  • Whole grains, especially oats and barley 

  • Asparagus 

  • Dandelion greens 

A few sample meals that have probiotics and prebiotics include yogurt and bananas, barley soup with onions, garlic, leeks, and miso, and oatmeal with berries. 

Finally, while probiotic supplements are probably not necessary for most people, some probiotics are used in a clinical setting to help treat and manage certain conditions. If you are interested in taking a probiotic to help with a specific issue, talk to your healthcare provider. 

Note from Healthy For Life Meals: Our meal plans include foods that are natural sources of probiotics and prebiotics, such as yogurt, onions, garlic, legumes, and whole grains. Get started with one of our plans today and let us help you maintain a healthy gut. 

Stef Keegan