You’ve probably heard of probiotics, beneficial bacteria that’s found in food and supplements. But have you heard of prebiotics? Prebiotics may not be as well-known as probiotics, but they are another important component of digestive health. Learn about the role prebiotics play and how you can incorporate them into a healthy diet.

As you may know, probiotics are good bacteria that live in your digestive system. They help you digest your food and boost your immune system. But in order to live, they need food for fuel. That’s where prebiotics come in. Prebiotics are components of the food we eat that act as fuel for probiotics. Prebiotics are a type of carbohydrate that we can’t digest but probiotics can, called fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS). Examples of FOS are inulin and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS). But you don’t have to remember these names – instead, you can learn about foods that they’re found in.

Lots of naturally occurring foods that you may already eat contain prebiotics. Most of these foods fall under the vegetable group: leeks, garlic, asparagus, onions, artichokes, soybeans, legumes are all good sources of prebiotics. Whole grain foods, like whole wheat and oatmeal, also contain prebiotics. And finally, prebiotics are also found in some sweet foods: bananas and honey.

You can also take prebiotics in supplement form. They come in tablets, capsules, or powders. When you’re shopping for prebiotics, keep your eyes out for the name Inulin – some prebiotics are labeled by the type of carbohydrate they contain. You can also buy supplements that combine prebiotics and probiotics, which is a good way to ensure you get the benefit of consuming both at the same time.

Research shows that there are many health benefits of taking prebiotics. The prebiotics indirectly cause the health benefits by improving the balance of bacteria in the intestines. Having a good amount of healthy bacteria can then improve metabolism (especially fat metabolism) and mineral absorption, since the good bacteria help digest food and increase the amount of nutrients that are absorbed by the body. Prebiotics can also help prevent diarrhea, constipation, and even cancer through increasing healthy bacteria in the body and promoting healthy digestion.

Taking prebiotics can also improve immune system function. In our modern society, we’re not exposed to as many bacteria and pathogens as we were in the past, which means our immune systems may not be as strong. An increase in good bacteria helps challenge the immune system in a safe, healthy way. This helps your immune system become better at fighting off infections like the cold and flu.

Prebiotics are safe to take for both adults and children. They’re natural, found in healthy foods, and have few side effects. If you’re taking probiotics, don’t skip the prebiotics! Make sure you fuel the probiotics properly so they can keep you healthy. Eat foods that contain prebiotics, or take supplements if you don’t eat these foods often. You can also try combining a prebiotic food with a probiotic food. For example, eat a banana with kefir (a fermented milk drink). This way, you’ll make sure you get enough of the healthy combination of prebiotics and probiotics.