Why We Need Prebiotics From Plant-Based Foods to Nourish Probiotic Bacteria 

Why We Need Prebiotics From Plant-Based Foods to Nourish Probiotic Bacteria 

  • Healthy Eating

  • By Desiree Nielsen, Registered Dietitian

    No matter how we define our eating style, eating more whole plant foods is better for the planet, better for our wallet, and incredibly nourishing to our gut health. 

    Plant foods are packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and also contain indigestible carbohydrates that we loosely refer to as fiber. Fiber isn't just one substance, but rather represents a diverse array of molecules; from gel-forming soluble fibers to resistant starches, many of these unique carbohydrate chains have the added benefit of feeding beneficial microbes in the gut. We call these fibers the prebiotics.


    The Changing Definition of Prebiotics

    The term prebiotic was first proposed by two scientists, Glenn Gibson and Michel Roberfroid in 1995, who defined them as ‘a nondigestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by selectively stimulating the growth and activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, and thus improves host health’.1 

    Essentially, prebiotics are food for probiotics - the beneficial bacteria in your gut that helps improve immune response and overall digestive health. If you want your gut bacteria to stay resilient and strong, you need to feed them well.

    Here is where plant foods come in. Currently, there is still some debate about what truly defines a prebiotic1. Much of the early research focused on only a molecule called inulin, or fructooligosaccharides (FOS), found in garlic, onions, artichokes and whole grains - so when recommending ‘prebiotic foods’, the list was a narrow one.

    Without a doubt, inulin is considered to be a valuable prebiotic fiber: taking 5-20g of inulin daily helps boost the growth of beneficial microbes in the gut. However, few of us will realistically reach that level of intake – the average American consumes only 1-4 g per day2 – and doing so can cause significant digestive distress to those with gut issues.

    We also know that many indigestible plant fibers such as pectin in raspberries and apples, or resistant starch in bananas, have prebiotic effects3. In addition, it is thought that polyphenols, phytochemicals found in foods such as raw cacao, berries, green tea, and black beans, also have prebiotic properties4.


    A Plant Feast for Human and Microbes

    If you are looking to harness the power of plants for a healthier gut, you need to look no further than the garden. Eat a variety of colorful plant foods daily; I recommend 1-2 cups of fruits and vegetables at every meal. If it seems like a lot, try this easy trick: simply double the volume of fruit or vegetable in every recipe you make! You can also shift some of those fruits and vegetables to snack time to spread your intake throughout the day.

    Looking to supercharge your plate? Make these foods a part of your daily routine:

    Alliums: garlic, onion, leek, scallions, shallot

    Berries: blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries

    Pectin-rich: citrus, apples, pears, ripe bananas, gooseberries, cranberries

    Resistant starch-rich: oats, unripe bananas, cooked and cooled rice or potatoes, legumes

    Inulin-rich: whole grains, dandelion greens, sunchoke, barley, asparagus


    Certainly, to best nurture digestive health, you need both prebiotics and probiotics. A clinical strength probiotic such as Bio-K+ helps to deliver powerful microbes into the gut and feeding them well gives them the strength to do their job well. It’s why every bottle of drinkable Bio-K+ contains nutritional ingredients to keep bacteria healthy and thriving until you take them. 

    Eating a more plant-centered diet can help you feel more energized, resilient and well. Aim for a broad spectrum of fiber-rich plant foods to help improve elimination, lower inflammation and feed beneficial bacteria.6,7


    Do you have any other questions concerning the health of your gut? Let us know in the comments below! Join our community for more healthy tips. Click here to find a store near you. Contact us or follow us on Facebook and Instagram.




    1. Hutkins et al. 2016. Prebiotics : why definitions matter. Curr Opin Biotechnol. 37: 1–7
    2. FAN et al. 2016. The prebiotic inulin as a functional food – a review. European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences. 20: 3262-3265
    3. Simpson et al. 2015. Review article: dietary fibre-microbiota intesractions. Alimentary
      Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 42: 158–179
    4. Duenas et al. 2015. A survey of Modulation of Gut Microbiota by Dietary Polyphenols. BioMed
      Research International. 850902
    5. International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics, 2018. Understanding Prebiotics
      and Fiber
    6. Jeffery et al. 2013. Diet-Microbiota Interactions and Their Implications for Healthy Living.
      Nutrients. 5, 234-252
    7. Dinan et al. Feeding melancholic microbes : MynewGut recommendations on diet and mood.
      Clinical Nutrition. 38 (2019) 1995-2001

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    Desiree Nielsen Registered Dietitian
    About the author
    Desiree Nielsen is a registered dietitian, author and host of the vegetarian cooking sshow, The Urban Vegetarian. Desiree takes an evidence-based, integrative approach to her dietetics work, with a focus on anti-inflammatory, plant-centredcentered nutrition and digestive health.
    View all articles by Desiree Nielsen
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