by Heather A. Goesch, MPH, RDN, LDN

‘Tis the season for travel, end-of-year deadlines, festive get-togethers… and for colds and flu. If you or your family are under the weather, or you want to preempt any illness by giving your immune system some reinforcement, read on!

Part of the body’s “microbiota,” probiotics (the “good” bacteria) and prebiotics (the “good” bacteria promoters) are mostly known for promoting good digestion, but they also play vital roles in supporting the strength of your immune system [1]. Approximately 80% of your immune system is in your GI system, and these help replenish your stores of healthy gut bacteria, inhibit growth of unfriendly bacteria, and can also help reduce inflammation.

Probiotics and prebiotics are best utilized in food form (as opposed to supplements) and, fortunately for us, are found in many common ingredients – some of which we may already have stocked at home.

Probiotics are found in:

·         Yogurt (look for packages labeled “Contains Live/Active Cultures”)

·         Buttermilk

·         Aged cheeses

·         Fermented beverages, like kefir and kombucha

·         Fermented foods, like miso, tempeh, kimchi and sauerkraut

·         Soy beverages

Prebiotics are found in:

·         Bananas, apples and berries

·         Onions, leeks and garlic

·         Potatoes

·         Asparagus

·         Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes)

·         Dark leafy greens, like dandelion greens, spinach, collards, kale and chard

·         Tomatoes

·         Soybeans and lentils

·         Pistachios and flaxseed

·         Cocoa

·         Rolled oats/oatmeal

·         Whole grains and whole grain flours, including wheat, rye, barley and buckwheat

Food forms of probiotics and prebiotics are further maximized when enjoyed in combination with one another. For example, a bowl of oatmeal topped with banana and a dollop of yogurt; a stir fry with garlic, asparagus, edamame and tempeh; or a homemade pizza on whole wheat crust or a whole grain pita bread with tomato sauce, artichokes, red onion, black olives and Parmesan cheese!

Most of the foods and beverages rich in probiotic and prebiotics are also loaded with many other nutrients important in the fight against infection and illness, like vitamins A and C, folate, zinc, fiber, and plenty of potent antioxidant phytochemicals. In addition, these friendly bacteria help improve our body’s ability to utilize these beneficial nutrients, providing an even bigger immunity bump.

Better still is that pro- and prebiotics have also been linked to improvements in treatment or prevention of a variety of other health issues [2], including IBS (particularly reducing abdominal pain, gas and bloating), ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, infections of the urinary tract, and potentially type 2 diabetes [3], bladder cancer recurrence, and eczema in children.

This cold and flu season, and all year round, add a wide variety of probiotic- and prebiotic-rich foods and beverages to your daily diet to help support a strong, healthy immune system and ward off illness. Be well!


1. Giorgetti G, Brandimarte G, Fabiocchi F, et al. Interactions between Innate Immunity, Microbiota, and Probiotics. Jour Immun Res. 2015;2015:501361. doi:10.1155/2015/501361.

2. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. (2014) The Benefits of Probiotic Bacteria. Retrieved from Updated 7 June 2017. Accessed 30 November 2017.

3. Bakalar, N. (24 November 2014) Yogurt May Lower Diabetes Risk. The New York Times Well Blog. Retrieved from Accessed 30 November 2017.

Probiotics and Prebiotics

Category: Uncategorized


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  • That’s a great a post. Very informative and in brief. I am going to share these tips on my blog. Great post.

  • Last night at Costco I saw Belgian dark chocolates announcing on the package fronts that each piece contains 1 billion probiotics, as if I might need another reason to love dark chocolate. I have no idea if this claim is true, if it’s true of all chocolates, if these particular chocolates are specially laced with more probiotics than most chocolates, or how many probiotics a person needs in a day. Is this blatant marketing hype? What do nutritionists think about a piece of dark chocolate a day for probiotics?

    • I am not sure of the chocolate in question, but my “gut” reaction would be that it is too good to be true. Enjoy dark chocolate in small amounts if it something that you like, but I wouldn’t eat it too often for its purported health benefits.

      We are still scratching the surface of the gut microbiome and the accompanied probiotics. Until we learn more, I’d suggest eating foods naturally rich in a diversity of pre and probiotics including fiber rich fruits and vegetables as well as greek yogurt, kefir and kimchi.

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