Pre and Probiotics: 64 Powerful Pre and Probiotic Foods Boost Gut Health

Pre and Probiotics

Ever thought about:

  • What prebiotics are?
  • What probiotics are?
  • The difference between prebiotics and probiotics?
  • What the benefits of prebiotics are?
  • What the benefits of probiotics are?
  • Which foods are prebiotic?
  • Which foods are probiotic?
  • How do both pre and probiotics contribute to a healthy gut?
  • How safe are prebiotic supplements?
  • Are probiotic supplements safe to use?

Pre and probiotics

What is Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are special plant fibers found in foods that the human body is incapable of digesting. These fibers are what the healthy bacteria in the gut feed on to stimulate the bacteria’s growth in the gut.

This, in turn, aids digestive health and strengthens the immune system by producing short-chain fatty acids which are the principal source of nutrients for the colon cells. Roughly 95% of the short-chain fatty acids found in the human body are acetate, butyrate, and propionate. The types of fiber considered the best for producing short-chain fatty acids for colon health include

  • Inulin
  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS)
  • Resistant starch
  • Pectin
  • Arabinoxylan
  • Guar gum

Types of Prebiotics

Though there are many different types of prebiotics, the majority are mostly oligosaccharide carbohydrates (OSCs). The types of prebiotics include:

  • Fructans
  • Galacto-oligosaccharides
  • Starch and Glucose-Derived Oligosaccharides
  • Other Oligosaccharides
  • Non-Carbohydrate Oligosaccharides


What are Probiotics?

All humans at all times have both good (friendly) and not-so-good (bad) bacteria in and on our bodies. Bad bacteria are generally considered germs that make us ill and cause one or another disease.

Probiotics are live bacteria combined with yeasts that live in the human body naturally. Probiotics are regarded as good bacteria which help our body to work as it should, thus keeping it healthy, especially our digestive system (the gut).

Probiotics also:

  • fight off bad bacteria when your body has too much of it, resulting in you feeling better
  • replace the loss of good bacteria in the body due to the use of antibiotics

Types of Probiotics

There are a lot of different types of bacteria which are classified as probiotics. Even though these different types of probiotics all offer varying benefits, most of them come from one of two groups.

Lactobacillus. Probably the most commonplace probiotic. This is found in yogurt and other fermented foodstuffs.

Bifidobacterium. Present in dairy products such as kefir and buttermilk.

Saccharomyces boulardii. A yeast functioning as a probiotic that helps in maintaining a healthy balance of both good and bad micro-organisms in the gut.

What is the Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics?

Pre and probiotics both have their own vital role to play in the human body to ensure a healthy gut so the digestive system can work smoothly.

The role of prebiotics, which comes from indigestible carbs, is to act as food for good bacteria. The role of good bacteria (probiotics) is to feed off the indigestible fiber (prebiotics).

Another way to distinguish between pre and probiotics is: prebiotics are dead dietary fibers and probiotics are live bacteria.

Pre and probiotics are found in a variety of foods and also in supplements. Sufficient quantities of both pre and probiotics support one’s health and promote the digestion of food and support a healthy immune system.

Benefits of Prebiotics

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Prebiotics cannot be digested in the human body’s small intestines. Since there is a lack of those enzymes required to break prebiotics down, prebiotics reaches the gut in undigested form.

In the gut, prebiotics serves as food for beneficial organisms and bacteria found there.

Through prebiotic fermentation, more short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) are produced. The various ways in which the gut actually benefits from the short-chain fatty acids include, but are not limited to:

  • it maintains the integrity of the intestinal barrier
  • produces mucus
  • anti-inflammatory effects may protect from digestive disorders such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
  • risk of colorectal cancer is reduced
  • regulates the immune system

Prebiotic fermentation also functions as a stimulant for the growth of bifidobacteria and lactobacillus, 2 types of probiotics that are beneficial to digestive health and the strengthening of the immune system.

Prebiotics helps with the absorption of nutrients that help in preventing obesity and bring relief from constipation.

Prebiotic benefits on the immune system
As mentioned earlier the immune system benefits when prebiotics stimulates the immune system. It is well-known that the micro-organisms found in the gut have an impact on various aspects of the mucosal immune system (the largest part of the whole immune system). As a result, an increase in probiotics (particularly bifidobacteria and lactic acid bacteria) or in beneficial microbes can have either a direct or indirect effect. When the activity of gut-associated lymphoid tissues (GALT) is stimulated, it results in good health, and the risk of contracting diseases is less likely.

Prevent Colorectal Cancer
When the colorectal microflora’s composition or activity is modified by prebiotics it may be advantageous in preventing colorectal cancer. A greater risk of colorectal cancer is linked to modified intestinal microbiota and short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) reduction. As such, the main mechanisms that are considered contributory to the anti-cancer effect of prebiotics in the gut are the production of fatty acids and alterations of gene expression in the cancerous cells. Numerous preclinical and epidemiologic studies have illustrated a decrease in the levels of several biomarkers regarding colorectal cancer once prebiotics was administered.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) Prevention
IBS (inflammatory bowel disease) is primarily caused by dysbiotic intestinal microbiota. Groundbreaking research into new treatments that focuses on gut microflora was thus initiated. Since prebiotics enhances the mucosal barrier and also modulate the microflora of the gut, it assists in inhibiting inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). It has been suggested that due to the production of SCFAs, the prebiotics nourishes the bowel wall which results in benefits in Crohn’s disease. In ulcerative colitis, there is the belief that prebiotics, due to less sulfate-producing bacteria, lead to a decrease in the production of hydrogen sulfide gas. Sulfate-producing bacteria cannot flourish in the acidic environment which is created by short-chain fatty acids.

Relief from Constipation
Intestinal dysbiosis is a major cause of constipation. By stimulating the growth of beneficial bacteria, prebiotics like bifidobacteria act as a viable option in relieving constipation. SCFA production by these bacteria plays a pivotal role in the modulation of intestinal motility by exerting a trophic effect on the epithelial cells. This ultimately leads to increased blood flow in the region and increased intestinal motility.

Prevents Obesity
The absorption of fats and the metabolism of glucose are disrupted by low-grade inflammation which develops due to gut microbiota. Disruptions of the absorption of fats and the metabolism of glucose are characteristic factors of obesity. Correction of metabolic alterations happens when prebiotics boosts the integrity of the gut barrier and also reduce the low-grade inflammation in the intestines, which encourages loss of weight.

Note: Chronic low-grade inflammation can become a silent killer contributing to cancer, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and some other conditions. It is therefore imperative to attack the inflammation to protect yourself.

Lowers Cholesterol
The principal reason why prebiotics has a cholesterol-lowering effect is that prebiotics produces short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). Blood pressure is lowered when the SCFAs produced by the prebiotics are digested in the portal vein and then metabolized by the liver. In the small intestine, prebiotics in the digestion of phospholipids, and fats also play a role. A decrease in cholesterol levels results from the binding effect of prebiotics. When the level of total cholesterol decreases, the clearance of LDL (bad) cholesterol is increased and a reduction in blood pressure is possible.

Improve the Absorption of Several Minerals
The absorption of crucial minerals such as magnesium and calcium, both of which are essential to bone health is improved by prebiotics. Acidification of the intestine lumen (the lumen is the opening inside the bowels) is aided by the short-chain fatty acids that are produced by prebiotics. The acidification subsequently boosts the solubility of minerals in the intestines leading to an increased expression of calcium-binding proteins in the large intestine.

The effects of nutrition (good and bad) on the well-being of humans are familiar to most of us. Regarding important dietary components that are beneficial in improving metabolism in humans, there seems to be some ignorance still. Prebiotics are crucial additives to one’s diet and can have a beneficial impact on the health of humans. Since there are many diseases that are associated with an imbalance in gut microbiota, prebiotics seems to display a compelling, non-pharmacological way of treating them.

Benefits of Probiotics

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A healthy gut is vital for overall well-being. An imbalance in the gut microbiome can be attributed to medication, illness, an unbalanced diet, and more. An imbalance means there are too few good bacteria and too many bad bacteria. This imbalance can lead to a variety of problems such as obesity, mental health issues, allergies, digestive problems, etc.

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Some of the major health benefits associated with probiotics include:

Balancing the good bacteria in the digestive system

Probiotics help to restore the natural balance of bacteria in the gut.

Prevention and treatment of diarrhea.

One of the side effects of taking antibiotics is diarrhea. Diarrhea happens when antibiotics cause an imbalance between good and bad gut bacteria. Probiotics are well known for their ability to reduce the severity of diarrhea or even prevent it from occurring. Diarrhea from other causes can also be reduced by probiotics.

Some mental health conditions may improve when taking probiotic supplements.

The brain has a direct effect on the stomach and intestines. For example, the very thought of eating can release the stomach’s juices before food gets there. This connection goes both ways. A troubled intestine can send signals to the brain, just as a troubled brain can send signals to the gut. Therefore, a person’s stomach or intestinal distress can be the cause or the product of anxiety, stress, or depression. That’s because the brain and the gastrointestinal (GI) system are intimately connected.” – Source

More and more studies confirm a link between gut health and the brain. Various of these studies conducted proved that taking probiotics either in supplemental form or eating probiotic yogurt over a period of 6-8 weeks can boost general health as well as improve the symptoms generally associated with anxiety, autism, stress, depression, OCD, etc.

Maintain healthy cholesterol levels for a healthy heart.

When a probiotic contains the Lactobacillus strain, it may help with heart health. This strain lowers bad cholesterol (LDL), as well as blood pressure. When the levels of cholesterol and blood pressure are not kept at healthy levels, they become risk factors that may lead to the development of stroke and heart disease.

Bile (aka gall) is made up of bile acids and salts, phospholipids, cholesterol, pigments, water, and electrolyte chemicals necessary to help digestion. Some lactic acid-producing bacteria of the Lactobacillus strain help break down bile to prevent its reabsorption in the gut. When bile is not broken down it may enter the blood as cholesterol.

Taking probiotics may help in lowering blood pressure, albeit very modestly. To derive any actual benefit, supplementation must be more than 10 million CFUs (colony-forming units) daily over a period of no less than 8 weeks.

Reduction in the severity of some allergies and eczema in infants and children.

A study published in 2008 concluded that a reduction in the seriousness of eczema in infants and children is possible with certain probiotic strains. The symptoms of eczema in infants who were fed milk with probiotics improved compared to those infants who did not drink milk with added probiotics.

While probiotics may indicate a reduction in the risk and severity of eczema in infants, more studies are required to confirm the effectiveness of probiotic supplementation.

Reduction in the symptoms of some disorders of the digestive system.

According to NCBI, in 2009 more than 1.1 million people in the US is affected by an inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

While the results of clinical trials are mixed, there are a few small studies that indicate that specific probiotics may assist in the remission of ulcerative colitis. Probiotics from the Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus strains were found to improve the symptoms in people who have mild ulcerative colitis.

It may prevent Crohn’s disease from relapsing and pouchitis (inflammation that occurs in the lining of a pouch created during surgery to treat ulcerative colitis) from reoccurring. Even so, research on which strains are most advantageous for which condition is still needed.

Probiotics may bring relief from the symptoms associated with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). Symptoms include bloating, stomach pain, diarrhea, gas, and constipation. The Bifidus strain in probiotics was found to improve bowel regularity.

Boost Your Immune System

For people who are often sick, probiotics may prove to be an excellent immune booster.

Probiotics strengthen the individual’s immunity when the friendly bacteria in the body are enriched and replenished by its consumption. Eating foods with probiotics on a regular basis makes it much easier for your body to produce those enzymes and vitamins needed to keep the gut happy.

Inhibiting the growth of bacteria harmful to the gut may also boost your immune system.

Lose weight and belly fat

Consuming probiotics has another benefit in that it can help you maintain a healthy weight.

We all know how important the role of metabolism is in the digestion of food, the production of energy that burns more calories and regulating our appetite by making you feel full for a longer period of time. Probiotics therefore can help to increase the rate of metabolism.

In order for probiotics to be of help in losing weight, they must be made from a strain that inhibits the absorption of dietary fat in the gut. Less fat is subsequently stored in the body as the fat is excreted through feces.

A study conducted over a period of 24 weeks found women who were on a diet who also consumed the probiotic Lactobacillus rhamnosus lost an effective 50% more weight than the women who didn’t include a probiotic in their diet.

In 2013 over a period of 12 weeks, 210 people with large visceral fat areas were the subjects of a study to determine the effect of Lactobacillus gasseri on belly fat. It was found that even low doses of Lactobacillus gasseri brought about an 8.5% reduction in belly fat.

NOTE: While Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Lactobacillus gasseri have yielded positive results pertaining to weight loss and loss of belly fat, there are, however, probiotics of the Lactobacillus species, for example, Lactobacillus acidophilus, that could result in weight gain.

Probiotics benefits for skin

Skin can greatly benefit from probiotics either by oral consumption or applying them topically to your skin.

For your skin to benefit from probiotics, you need to make sure the probiotics you use have good bacteria. Some of the ways in which your skin benefits include:

  • Various skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, rosacea, rashes, and acne may be the result of altered gut flora. When probiotics produce friendly gut flora your skin can benefit.
  • Signs of aging may be reduced when the topical use of probiotics can build collagen which makes for stronger skin and a smooth appearance.
  • There are strains of probiotics that benefit the outermost layer of your skin by making it stronger. Dehydration of stronger skin is vastly reduced and brings about healthy skin.
  • Clear skin can be achieved by keeping inflammation in check. For example, acne sufferers can experience elevated inflammatory responses to certain food types that cause more oil to be produced in the skin.

Probiotics for the urogenital health system

Where urogenital health is concerned, probiotics may very well be of good use. When vaginal imbalances occur due to a variety of endo- and exogenous factors which then give rise to urogenital issues such as yeast vaginitis, urinary tract infection (UTI), and bacterial vaginosis (BV), treatment with probiotics can restore the imbalance.

How to best benefit from probiotics

Probiotics are available in many different foods and also supplements. To enjoy the full benefits offered by probiotics, adequate amounts must be consumed.

Most studies that show there are benefits in taking probiotics indicate dosages must be between 1 billion and 100 billion live organisms or colony-forming units (CFU) daily.


Which foods are prebiotic?

Prebiotics are needed to stimulate the growth of friendly bacteria in the gut in order to improve general digestive health.

The main food groups that contain prebiotics are vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.


  1. chicory root
  2. Jerusalem artichokes
  3. Jicama root (a starchy vegetable that is similar to turnip or potato, but low in sugar)
  4. garlic
  5. leeks
  6. savoy cabbage
  7. Burdock root
  8. dandelion greens
  9. konjac root
  10. onions
  11. seaweed (edible types include Wakame, Kombu, Nori, Hijiki, Umibudo, Kelp)
  12. asparagus
  13. leeks
  14. Yacon root
  15. mushrooms
  16. spring onion
  17. beetroot
  18. fennel
  19. green peas
  20. eggplant
  21. endive
  22. radishes


  1. bananas
  2. berries
  3. custard apples
  4. watermelon
  5. grapefruit
  6. tomatoes
  7. persimmons
  8. nectarines
  9. pomegranate


  1. wheat bran
  2. barley
  3. oats
  4. rye
  5. couscous


  1. chickpeas
  2. lentils
  3. baked beans
  4. soybeans
  5. red kidney beans

Nuts and Seeds

  1. almonds
  2. pistachio nuts
  3. flaxseeds
  4. cacao (seeds of the fruit of the Theobroma cacao tree)

Probiotic foods

  1. yogurt (only yogurt that contains active or live cultures – check label before buying)
  2. kefir
  3. sauerkraut
  4. tempeh
  5. kimchi
  6. miso
  7. kombucha
  8. pickles
  9. traditional buttermilk (not cultured buttermilk)
  10. natto
  11. cheese (mozzarella, cottage, gouda, and cheddar)
  12. olives (water or brine-cured)
  13. skyr
  14. lassi
  15. Turchi
  16. pickled beets
  17. pickled onions
  18. cucumbers
  19. umeboshi

How do both pre and probiotics contribute to a healthy gut?

To maintain gut health, a balance between beneficial (friendly) and harmful bacteria must be kept.

We now know probiotics are the friendly (live) bacteria we benefit from. Probiotics, however, need prebiotics to feed on in order to produce friendly bacteria.

Gut bacteria are involved in a variety of biological processes in the human body. It subsequently follows that consuming both pre and probiotics in balanced amounts keeps the microbiota in the gut at healthy levels. Gut bacteria also provide nutrition to those cells which line the digestive tract.

Are there any prebiotic supplement side effects I need to know about?

Generally speaking, the consumption of prebiotics is safe for most healthy people. For some people, when they first start taking prebiotics, they may experience some abdominal discomfort, bloating, and gas while their digestive system gets used to it.

People who are afflicted by IBS (or any other gastrointestinal disorder) are advised to first consult with their doctor before including prebiotics in their diet.

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Does supplementing with probiotics carry any side effects?

Probiotics offer many health benefits. There is, however, a small number of people who may experience minor side effects.

More serious complications may present themselves in people who either have compromised immune systems or suffer from a serious illness.

The most common side effects of probiotics are:

  • a temporary increase in gas and bloating when consuming bacteria-based probiotic supplements
  • yeast-based probiotics may cause constipation and thirst
  • foods rich in probiotics, such as yogurt and sauerkraut contain biogenic amines (histamines, tyramines, tryptamines, and phenylethylamines) that can cause headaches when they affect blood flow (either increase or decrease it) or cause excitement in the central nervous system.
  • An increase in histamine levels may be caused by some probiotic strains, leading to symptoms that are similar to those of an allergic reaction.
  • Adverse reactions in people who suffer from intolerances or allergies. Allergens that may be used in probiotic supplements include gluten, dairy, lactose, egg, or soy which could set off an allergic reaction.
  • Supplemental probiotics which contain both prebiotic fibers and probiotic microorganisms are known as synbiotics which may cause gas and bloating.
  • Sensitive individuals may be prone to infection when the bacteria found in probiotics enter the bloodstream. The risk is, however, minimal.
  • SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth) is the result of bacteria from the large intestines that start to grow in the small intestines. Different types of bacteria are found in each of the intestines. Symptoms of SIBO are bloating, gas, and diarrhea which is similar to the symptoms of IBS. Other symptoms that may be caused by SIBO include short-term memory problems and brain fog.


Generally speaking, most healthy people do not need to take pre and probiotics. When a balanced diet includes vegetables, fruits, grains, and fermented foods, it should provide sufficient amounts of pre and probiotics without the need for supplements.

As a rule, though, pre and probiotics are safe for most people and when consumed in large quantities, do offer health benefits.

Some of the ingredients used in pre and probiotic supplements can, however, cause a reaction in some people. The same can be said for amines that are naturally found in some probiotic foods. When any adverse effect is noticed it is recommended to immediately stop taking the pre and probiotics.

People who are healthy usually aren’t at risk when taking pre and probiotics, but those who have a weakened immune system or an underlying illness are.

Pre and probiotics are, in the long run, beneficial when added to a person’s diet. Very few risks and/or side effects are likely.

However, people who suffer from a serious health condition or compromised immune system stand a greater chance of encountering problems. If you are aware of any condition that may cause issues when taking pre and probiotics, it is strongly recommended not to take them without consulting with a medical practitioner first.



You are encouraged to talk to your doctor before taking dietary supplements. Any mention in this article of a specific product does not represent an endorsement of that product.