Probiotics & Prebiotics: Foods to Promote Good Digestion

At some point, you may have heard or read that yogurt is good for you, so you’ve been faithfully eating it ever since. Or maybe you’ve been choking it down even though you don’t like it. Or maybe you’ve been avoiding it for some other reason but are still regularly told that you “should” eat it.

We hear so much about yogurt in part because it is considered a probiotic food. Probiotic foods are those consisting of live bacteria and yeasts that help colonize the digestive tract with health-promoting microorganisms. Whoa, what does that even mean?

Probiotics are most well known for their role in promoting good digestion, or, in other words, bowel “regularity”. Probiotics have also been shown to have numerous other health benefits, including positive effects in:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Infectious diarrhea and antibiotic-related diarrhea
  • Skin conditions, e.g. eczema
  • Urinary and vaginal health conditions
  • Allergies and colds

Additionally, probiotics are associated with increased resistance to c. difficile, an infectious bacteria that may cause severe diarrhea and inflammation of the colon, and they promote optimal digestion of anti-inflammatory compounds found in food, which are also known to have health benefits. Probiotics are linked to prevention of type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, Alzheimer’s, and more. They may reduce depression and anxiety, improve heart health, and improve immune function.

So, what foods contain probiotics? Here are some non-yogurt, probiotic-rich foods:

  • Apple cider vinegar (raw)
  • Buttermilk
  • Sour cream
  • Kefir
  • Kombucha
  • Sauerkraut (non-canned)
  • Fermented vegetables
  • Kimchi
  • Miso

Some of these may sound foreign to you, but most are widely available at large grocery stores and Walmart. Click here to read more about the above foods, as well as a few more obscure probiotic-rich foods.

In addition to probiotics, the digestive system also needs prebiotics, which are non-digestible fibers found in food that help promote growth and activity of beneficial microorganisms in the gut, i.e. probiotics. So, probiotics need prebiotics. Foods containing high amounts of prebiotics include:

  • Raw garlic
  • Raw or cooked onions
  • Raw leeks
  • Raw jicama
  • Raw asparagus
  • Raw dandelion greens
  • Raw Jerusalem artichoke
  • Under-ripe bananas

Additionally, other raw fruits and vegetables also contain prebiotics, though in lower amounts than those listed above.

Together, prebiotics and probiotics help to promote and maintain balanced gut bacteria, which is important for both good digestion and lowering overall disease risk.

It may seem overwhelming to consider all of this information at once, but don’t be afraid to take baby steps toward better health! Aim to eat a serving of either raw fruit or vegetable (prebiotic) or a serving of something fermented or cultured (probiotic) at each meal. And stay tuned for a future post that more thoroughly discusses IBS specifically.