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The scoop on probiotic and prebiotic foods

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Learn how foods with probiotics and prebiotics might boost your digestive health.

Eating foods with probiotics and prebiotics might aid your digestion, so try to include them in your healthy-eating plan. Probiotics are live microorganisms (such as bacteria) similar to the healthy bacteria that live in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Prebiotics are natural, non-digestible food ingredients that promote the growth of “good” bacteria in your GI tract. Eating foods with prebiotics might improve your digestive health and enhance calcium absorption too.

Some research shows two strains—Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium—seem to offer the greatest benefits. Both can be found in probiotic foods such as kefir, buttermilk, sauerkraut, olives, pickles, miso (a soybean product), kimchi, and some yogurts and cheeses. Eating these foods might help prevent diarrhea caused by antibiotics and infections. They also might provide relief from symptoms associated with constipation, colds, allergies, and irritable bowel syndrome.

Prebiotic foods include bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, and whole grains. Top your yogurt with bananas or add asparagus to your miso soup to boost the mutual benefits of prebiotics and probiotics.

Probiotics can be found in certain dietary supplements and some skin creams too. However, the jury’s still out on whether they’re safe for long-term use, especially for people who have been diagnosed with weakened immune systems. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration also hasn’t approved any health claims for probiotics, so check with your healthcare provider about possible risks and side effects.

The greatest benefits from eating foods with probiotics and prebiotics occur when they’re part of a diet that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat sources of dairy and protein. For more information about probiotics, visit the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health's web page.

Posted 01 May 2017

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