Best prebiotic

20 Best Prebiotics for Gut Health and Hormonal Balance

Dr. Jolene BrightenPublished: Last Reviewed: Balancing Your Hormones, Digestion, Food, Gut-Hormone Connection, Herbs & Supplements, Wellbeing Leave a Comment

Probiotics are live microorganisms that offer numerous health benefits for gut function, immune defenses, hormone balance, and nutrient absorption — and prebiotics serve as the “fuel” for these beneficial bacteria, fostering their growth and activity within the gut. Incorporating the best prebiotics into your routine is a key element in creating optimal gut health and hormones.

Although prebiotics are often overshadowed by their probiotic counterparts, they're vital components of a healthy gut microbiome.

In this article, learn all about the need for prebiotics, exploring what they are, their benefits, and the top 20 prebiotic foods and supplements to incorporate into your diet for optimal gut health and hormonal balance.

Below, you'll learn about the best prebiotics for supporting overall health, including:

  • Guar gum
  • Chicory root
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Dandelion greens
  • And more

Benefits of Prebiotics

The consumption of prebiotics offers a myriad of health benefits — primarily centered around gut health but also related to hormonal balance and immune system function.

Some of the key benefits of consuming prebiotics include:

  • Improved digestive health: Prebiotics help regulate bowel movements, alleviate constipation, and promote regularity by supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
  • Enhanced immune function: A healthy gut microbiome, nourished by prebiotics, plays a crucial role in supporting the immune system, helping to fend off pathogens that can contribute to infections and illnesses.
  • Hormone production: Due to the gut hormone connection and the fact that many hormones are made in the gut, increasing your intake of fibrous plants can help support hormone balance. As we'll discuss, the microorganisms in your gut directly interact with estrogen, which makes them a key factor in optimizing this hormone.
  • Reduced inflammation: Prebiotics have been shown to help reduce inflammation in the gut and throughout the body, potentially lowering the risk of chronic inflammatory conditions, cardiovascular concerns, and metabolic syndrome (which includes type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity). Prebiotics are also believed to help reduce gut barrier permeability (leaky gut) which may help decrease allergies and other inflammatory responses.
  • Better nutrient absorption: By supporting a healthy gut microbiome, prebiotics aid in the absorption of essential nutrients, ensuring that your body can effectively utilize the nutrients from the foods you consume.
  • Support for vaginal health: The microbes living in your body also affect your vaginal health since the vagina has its own diverse microbiome that's linked to the gut's. Just like the gut houses many microbes, there’s a whole team of bacteria regulating immunity and pH in your vagina, too.

There are numerous benefits of prebiotics, which is why they are an important aspect of dietary health. Let's explore more in depth where to find prebiotics in foods. 

What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestible dietary fibers that support the growth of friendly gut bacteria. You can think of them as the food that allows beneficial probiotics to thrive.

Unlike probiotics, which are live bacteria, prebiotics are specific types of fibers (carbohydrates) that enable microbes in the gut to flourish and carry out their essential functions. In the gut, they are fermented by microbes that produce beneficial short-chain fatty acids released into blood circulation.

They promote the activity of helpful or “friendly bacteria” such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli strains while also inhibiting the growth of harmful pathogens (sometimes called “bad bacteria”) that can make you sick or lead to gut dysbiosis (an imbalance in gut microbes that can affect everything from your menstrual cycle and appetite to your ability to focus and mood).

Types of Prebiotics in Food

Common sources of prebiotics include oats, flax seeds, asparagus, and resistant starches like cooked and cooled rice or potatoes. Other types of prebiotics include various whole grains, seeds, and tuber vegetables, which are also full of fiber and other essential nutrients.

As you can tell, prebiotics come from plants. While all foods with prebiotics are types of plant-derived carbohydrates, not all carbs qualify as prebiotics and the prebiotic content can vary. That said, if you eat a variety of plants and consume at least 25-30 grams of fiber per day, chances are you're obtaining a good amount of prebiotics from your diet.

Specific types of dietary prebiotics found in foods and supplements include:

  • Guar gum: Derived from the guar bean.
  • Inulin: Found in chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, and dandelion greens, inulin is a type of soluble fiber that promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS): Present in foods like bananas, onions, and garlic.
  • Galactooligosaccharides (GOS): Naturally occurring in legumes, lentils, and certain grains.
  • Resistant starch: Found in green bananas, cooked and cooled potatoes, and oats.
  • Beta-glucans: Present in oats, barley, and certain types of mushrooms.
  • Pectin: Found in apples, citrus fruits, and berries.
  • Gum arabic: Derived from the sap of the Acacia tree.

Why Prebiotics are Essential in Your Diet

Incorporating prebiotic-rich foods and high-fiber foods into your diet is essential for maintaining a healthy gut bacteria that is diverse and balanced. 

By nourishing the beneficial bacteria in your gut, prebiotics help promote digestive health, may help reduce inflammation, and may lower the risk for hormonal and inflammatory issues like estrogen dominance.

How Prebiotics Help Your Gut

As mentioned above, prebiotics play a vital role in maintaining the balance of microorganisms in the gut, known as the gut microbiota. They selectively stimulate the growth and activity of healthy bacteria while inhibiting the proliferation of harmful bacteria.

This balance is essential for optimal gut function and digestion, such as by preventing constipation and maintaining the integrity of the gut lining.

The Role of Prebiotics in Supporting Hormone Balance

In addition to their role in gut health, prebiotics are crucial for supporting hormonal balance and a healthy estrobolome, which refers to the colony of helpful bacteria and other microbes with the unique ability to regulate estrogen.

Your gut is the largest endocrine (hormone-producing) organ in your body, responsible for making more than 50 different hormones, including reproductive hormones like estrogen as well as neurotransmitters like serotonin (which contributes to you feeling calm).

The gut microbiota is also involved in the metabolism and excretion of hormones, including estrogen, and in the maintenance of a healthy estrobolome.

Certain bacteria colonies in your gut are actually responsible for part of how you manage your estrogen metabolism. An imbalance in your microbiome can steer you toward estrogen dominance and a higher risk of experiencing painful, heavy periods, mood swings, and PMS.

By promoting a healthy gut microbiome, prebiotic foods can help regulate hormone levels and support hormonal balance. This can be particularly beneficial for women with issues associated with menstruation, menopause, or conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).

20 Best Foods with Prebiotics 

Below are some of the best prebiotics to emphasize in your diet and supplement routine. Use this prebiotic food list to guide you in making choices to support your gut and hormones.

  1. Guar Gum: Primarily contains soluble fiber, which undergoes fermentation in the colon, serving as food for beneficial gut bacteria. You'll find this prebiotic in our Women's Probiotic that also contains an ideal blend of spore-based organisms and Lactobacilli species to support both the gut and reproductive microbiome.
  2. Artichokes: Rich in inulin, a type of soluble fiber that serves as a prebiotic, promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria.
  3. Sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes): Contain inulin, a prebiotic fiber that supports gut health by nourishing beneficial bacteria.
  4. Green, Underripe Bananas: Packed with resistant starch, a prebiotic that feeds beneficial gut bacteria and promotes digestive health.
  5. Asparagus: Contains inulin, a prebiotic fiber that supports the growth of beneficial gut bacteria and aids in digestion.
  6. Dandelion Greens: High in inulin as well as antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
  7. Berries: Rich in polyphenols and fiber, which act as prebiotics.
  8. Oats: Contain beta-glucans, a type of soluble fiber that acts as a prebiotic, supporting gut health and digestion.
  9. Chicory Root: A great source of inulin.
  10. Garlic: Contains fructooligosaccharides (FOS), a type of prebiotic fiber.
  11. Cooked and Cooled Potatoes: Rich in resistant starch, a form of prebiotic.
  12. Leeks: Contains inulin.
  13. Onions: Rich in fructooligosaccharides.
  14. Flaxseeds: Contain soluble and insoluble fiber, which support overall gut health.
  15. Chia Seeds: Packed with soluble and insoluble fiber.
  16. Almonds: Rich in fiber as well as vitamins and healthy fats.
  17. Apples: Contain pectin, a type of soluble fiber.
  18. Seaweed (Such as Kelp): Contains fiber and polyphenols, which act as prebiotics.
  19. Legumes (Beans, Lentils, Chickpeas): Rich in soluble and insoluble fiber.
  20. Whole Grains (Barley, Brown Rice, Quinoa, Farro): Contain fibers such as beta glucan, inulin, and resistant starch. Be mindful that while some of these contain beneficial fibers, not all are gluten-free.

Tips for Eating More Prebiotics

The best way to meet your need for different prebiotics is to eat a variety of plants and fibers every week. This leads to you consuming different sources of prebiotics that promote microbial diversity in your gut, which is a marker of health.

An added bonus is that variety in your diet is also one way to obtain the essential nutrients you need while helping to prevent the development of food intolerances since it helps your body become accustomed to various foods.

Here are tips to help you increase your prebiotic intake:

  • Consume 20 to 30 unique plants each month: This might sound like a lot, but it includes all types of veggies, fruits, herbs, spices, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. These foods provide key micronutrients, a variety of types of fiber, and bioactive compounds to support the microbiome diversity needed for happy hormones. Use the prebiotic food list above to help you get ideas of where to start.
  • Limit processed foods: Make an effort to eat “whole foods,” meaning those that are as close to nature as possible and ideally only one ingredient (such as a seed, grain, fruit, or vegetable). If you are transitioning from a more Western, processed food diet to a whole-food diet, try adding a few unique plant foods such as leafy greens, beans, and spices to your diet and then slowly ramp up.
  • Check out this healthy eating guide: If you're in need of resources to help you get started, you can download my free hormone-balancing recipe guide, which provides a healthy meal plan.

Sensitive to Prebiotics? SIBO May Be to Blame

While prebiotics offer numerous health benefits, some individuals may experience digestive discomfort or sensitivity when consuming certain prebiotic-rich foods or supplements (or certain fibrous foods or carbohydrates).

The main issue linked to the consumption of prebiotics is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which can lead to gas, bloating, abdominal pain, and other gastrointestinal side effects.

SIBO is a condition mainly characterized by flatulence, a bloated stomach, abdominal discomfort, and symptoms that mimic irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). SIBO is caused by an abnormal amount of bacteria from the large intestine inhabiting the small intestine. While prebiotic foods feed these bacteria in the large intestine without issue, when they are found in the small intestine they can give way digestive issues.

It's a common cause of IBS, which often improves when a Low FODMAP diet for SIBO is followed that eliminates certain carbs. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols, which is a group of short-chain carbs that are not well digested in the small intestine. While it can offer relief, a Low FODMAP diet is highly restrictive and shouldn't be used for an extended period of time.

If you suspect that you're sensitive to prebiotics and may have SIBO, it's essential to investigate the specific types of prebiotics that may be causing you issues. Keeping a food diary and noting any symptoms or reactions can help pinpoint potential triggers.

Partially hydrolyzed guar gum is regarded as one of the best prebiotics for SIBO since it has been shown to help with motility and some studies have shown it to be beneficial in improving digestive symptoms and supporting the efficacy of Rifaximin (the primary medication used for treatment).

With the challenges those with SIBO face in mind, we chose to use partially hydrolyzed guar gum in our Women's Probiotic formula.

Additionally, if you regularly experience digestive issues such as severe bloating (which may be tied to endo belly) and pain, working with a healthcare provider or registered dietitian can provide valuable guidance and support in identifying and managing sensitivities.

Related: Guide to Carbohydrates While Treating SIBO

Choosing the Right Probiotic and Prebiotic Supplement for You

Probiotics are best taken in combination with a prebiotic supplement or a diet high in food sources of prebiotic fibers. However, for those who have a sensitivity to prebiotics, finding a suitable probiotic supplement that also contains prebiotics can be challenging.

The prebiotic blend in my Women's Probiotic, which is made from partially hydrolyzed guar gum, is specially formulated to be SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) friendly and non-aggravating. In fact, guar gum has been shown to be beneficial for managing SIBO when used with the antibiotic rifaximin.

This unique formulation provides prebiotic support without exacerbating digestive symptoms, making it an ideal choice for individuals with prebiotic sensitivity or other digestive concerns.

My Women’s Probiotic contains beneficial Lactobacillus species (including Lactobacillus rhamnosus, Lactobacillus acidophilus, and a Bacillus blend) that are specific to women’s health needs. These are paired with prebiotics that are SIBO-friendly, as well as phytonutrients that are supportive of gut, bladder, and ovarian health.

Key Takeaways on the Best Prebiotics

In conclusion, prebiotics are an essential component of a healthy diet, offering numerous benefits for gut health, immune function, and hormone balance. By incorporating prebiotic-rich foods into your meals and choosing supplements formulated with gentle, supportive prebiotics, you can nourish your gut microbiome by promoting microbial diversity and balance. Remember to listen to your body and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns or questions about incorporating prebiotics into your diet.

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About The Author

Dr. Jolene Brighten

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Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a women’s hormone expert and prominent leader in women’s medicine. As a licensed naturopathic physician who is board certified in naturopathic endocrinology, she takes an integrative approach in her clinical practice. A fierce patient advocate and completely dedicated to uncovering the root cause of hormonal imbalances, Dr. Brighten empowers women worldwide to take control of their health and their hormones. She is the best selling author of Beyond the Pill and Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth. Dr. Brighten is an international speaker, clinical educator, medical advisor within the tech community, and considered a leading authority on women’s health. She is a member of the MindBodyGreen Collective and a faculty member for the American Academy of Anti Aging Medicine. Her work has been featured in the New York Post, Forbes, Cosmopolitan, Huffington Post, Bustle, The Guardian, Sports Illustrated, Elle, and ABC News. Read more about me here.