It might be challenging to identify foods that contain the proper bacteria and nutrients (probiotics and prebiotics) in the right amounts if you’re seeking to follow a diet that can help to develop and support a healthy gut microbiota.

The good news is that research revealed at Nutrition 2023, the American Society of Nutrition’s annual meeting, does a lot of the legwork by identifying the foods with the highest concentrations of prebiotics.

Researchers identified the foods that contain the highest concentrations of prebiotics after examining the prebiotic content of thousands of foods:

Green dandelion

Sunchokes, commonly referred to as Jerusalem artichokes

Garlic Leeks Onions

Prebiotic-rich foods also include high levels of fiber, which has been demonstrated to improve bowel health, keep you “regular,” and make you feel fuller for longer, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in addition to boosting gut health.

According to earlier research, eating foods high in prebiotics is good for your health, according to study coauthor Cassandra Boyd, a graduate student at California’s San José State University. “Eating in a way to promote microbiome wellness while eating more fiber may be more attainable and accessible than you think,” she continued.

What are prebiotics and probiotics, and why are they important?

Prebiotics and dietary fibers are sometimes used interchangeably, although the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics (ISAPP) states that only a small portion of dietary fibers constitute prebiotics.

Gail Cresci, PhD, RD, a microbiome researcher from Cleveland Clinic Children’s in Ohio, explains that prebiotics are a form of dietary fiber that we, the host, cannot digest but that some microorganisms of the gut microbiota can.

In other words, prebiotics evade digestion and enter the colon, where some types of gut microbes can digest them. Prebiotics are able to support the gut microbiota’s ideal composition as a result, and this interaction can result in metabolites that have positive health effects, according to Dr. Cresci.

According to the National Institutes of Health, prebiotics are distinct from and should not be confused with probiotics, the live microorganisms present in fermented foods like tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, cultured milk, and yogurt that can help increase the diversity of the microbiome.

Consider it like this: Probiotics include live microbes, whereas prebiotics are “food” for the microbiome. Both may be advantageous to the health of the microbiome, but they function differently.

What Is a Sunchoke, Also Called a Jerusalem Artichoke?

According to the University of Michigan, the Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), despite its name, has nothing to do with Jerusalem and isn’t even an artichoke. Instead, the plant is connected to sunflowers. Its edible tuber, sometimes known as a sunchoke, is a ginger-like, knobby root vegetable with a mildly sweet and nutty flavor.

The risk of obesity and other chronic diseases may be lowered thanks to a diverse, healthy microbiome.

“We are still learning, but current evidence suggests that the gut microbiome supports overall health and well-being through its role in digestion, production of beneficial metabolites, supporting immunity, pathogen exclusion, and maintaining gut barrier function,” says Cresci, citing an analysis published in Signal Transduction and Targeted Therapy in April 2022.

A study that was published in the March 2022 issue of Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy found some evidence linking obesity and obesity-related disorders including type 2 diabetes to a lack of microbiome diversity.

What Foods Have the Highest Prebiotic Content?

The Food and Nutrient Database for Dietary Studies, a tool used by many experts to investigate nutrition and health, has more than 8,000 foods. For the study, researchers used previously published scientific findings to examine the prebiotic content of these meals.

Prebiotics were discovered to be present in more than one-third of those foods. The highest concentrations, which ranged from roughly 100 to 240 milligrams of prebiotics per gram of food (mg/g), were found in dandelion greens, sunchokes, garlic, leeks, and onions.

Other foods high in prebiotics included asparagus, creamed onions, cowpeas, onion rings, and Kellogg’s All-Bran cereal, all of which had 50–60 mg/g.

Items containing wheat are ranked lower. Dairy products, eggs, oils, and meats are examples of foods with minimal or no prebiotic content.

According to the scientists, the results of the preliminary literature assessment indicate that a variety of prebiotics are present in onions and foods that are connected to onions.