Your Guide to Probiotics and Prebiotics in Food

Eating pickled foods, like those pictured, can help keep your gut healthy.

Our gastrointestinal tract needs probiotics and prebiotics to create an environment where communities of beneficial bacteria can flourish. And while you may be tempted to use daily over-the-counter probiotic and prebiotic supplements, your diet is the best source of both.


Probiotic foods add healthy bacteria into our gut microbiome. The probiotics feed off fiber in the digestive tract to multiply, grow and thrive, maintaining a healthy gut environment. 

Fermented foods are a great source of probiotics and particularly effective in helping to promote a healthy gut. Fermentation is one of the oldest ways of preserving foods. It involves the process of lacto fermentation -- when natural bacteria feed on the starch and sugar in foods and promote various species of good bacteria as well as omega-3 fatty acids, enzymes, and B vitamins – all beneficial for our health.

Basically, fermentation takes one kind of food and turns it into a different food. For example, fermented cucumbers turn into pickles, milk into yogurt, cheese and sour cream, cabbage into sauerkraut, and soybeans into miso.  

Studies have found that fermentation has health benefits. For example, people who frequently eat yogurt have higher levels of a particularly beneficial bacteria called lactobacilli, and lower levels of many bad bacteria specifically linked to inflammation and related conditions and diseases.

Here are some great sources of probiotics from fermented foods:

  • Buttermilk
  • Fermented vegetables
  • Kefir
  • Kimchi
  • Kombucha
  • Miso
  • Sauerkraut
  • Some cheeses
  • Sourdough bread
  • Sour cream
  • Tempeh
  • Yogurt (plain is best) with live cultures


Prebiotics are complex carbohydrates high that are high in fiber, which has important health benefits including fostering good bacteria. However, our bodies cannot digest fiber. This is why probiotics are important. They feed on prebiotics, enabling good gut bacteria to grow.

Some of the most common prebiotic foods include whole grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables. But there are many more, including:

  • Apples
  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Barley
  • Beans
  • Berries
  • Broccoli
  • Chickpeas
  • Chicory root
  • Flax
  • Garlic
  • Green tea extracts
  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Nuts
  • Oatmeal
  • Onions
  • Raspberries
  • Rye
  • Seeds
  • Wheat
  • Whole grains

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