Prebiotics, sometimes referred to as fermentable fiber, are nondigestible nutrients that help promote the development of good intestinal bacteria. Some evidence suggests that eating prebiotic-rich foods can improve intestinal disturbances ranging from traveler’s diarrhea to irritable bowel syndrome. Prebiotics may even improve your ability to absorb calcium and fight illnesses. Many nutritious foods you can find at your local grocery store contain prebiotics.
Whole grains such as barley, oatmeal and wheat, are rich in prebiotics. Whole grains, which haven’t had their fiber and protein stripped during processing, help you feel satiated faster and offer greater nutritional benefits than refined varieties such as enriched flour and degerminated cornmeal. Aim for at least three 1 ounce whole grain servings each day. To determine whether a grain source is refined or whole, look for the words “whole grain” or “whole” in the first ingredient listed on the package.
Berries, bananas and cherries are among the fruits that contain the highest level of prebiotics. The number of servings you need each day depends on how many calories you eat. For instance, young children and some older people only need about two servings of fruit per day because their diet is generally around 1,600 calories a day. Older children, teen girls and most adults need about three servings for a 2,200 calorie diet and teen boys and active men need about four servings, according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. One serving is equivalent to about one medium banana or about 1/2 cup of blueberries. Stick to fresh and frozen fruit over fruit juice and fruits canned in syrup to get the most nutritional value out of your fruit intake.
Vegetables such as chard, kale, artichokes, chicory, garlic, onions and leeks are rich in prebiotics. Your daily intake of these vegetables depends on your daily calorie intake, but it should range from about three to five servings per day. One serving is equivalent to about 1 cup of raw leafy vegetables or 1/2 cup of other types of vegetables, cooked or raw.
Prebiotics are added to some processed foods, such as yogurt and meal replacement bars. They can come in some varieties of dietary supplements such as chewable tablets, swallowable capsules and powders that can be sprinkled onto foods and beverages. Not all supplements and processed foods are created equally, so ask your doctor to recommend a healthy one for you.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005: Food Groups to Encourage
- Jackson Siegelbaum Gastroenterology: Prebiotics! The New Kid on the Block
- University of Missouri Extension: Probiotics and Prebiotics: Is Your Bacteria Safe?
- Food Insight: Functional Foods Fact Sheet: Probiotics and Prebiotics
- Health.gov: Dietary Guidelines: Build a Healthy Base
- David De Lossy/Photodisc/Getty Images
This article reflects the views of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of Jillian Michaels or JillianMichaels.com.