The trillions of microbes in your gut play a significant role in your overall health. They help with everything from digestion to immune function, and taking care of them is crucial to overall health. It all starts with a healthy gut microbiome, the population of bacteria that live in your intestinal tract. By feeding the good bacteria in your gut, while reducing the influence of bad bacteria, you can foster better gut health.
One way to upgrade your gut microbiome is to consume more probiotic-rich foods or take a probiotic supplement. Probiotics are good bacteria in a form that colonizes your gut. You can get probiotics by eating fermented foods like yogurt, fermented vegetables, kimchi, or kombucha.
Another way to boost your gut microbiome and gut health is to add more prebiotic-rich foods to your plate. Prebiotic is a type of fiber that humans can’t digest but gut bacteria are all too happy to munch on. Although all fiber comes from plant-based sources; not all fiber is prebiotic. The kind that has prebiotic benefits is soluble and fermentable.
Gut Bacteria Release Beneficial Substances
When bacteria ferment prebiotic fiber, they form gases. They also produce compounds that favorably affect the lining of the colon, digestion, and immune health. These fibers also support the growth of healthy gut bacteria that make up your gut microbiome. Some prebiotics include galaco-oligosaccharides (GOS) and fructans.
Adding prebiotic fiber to your diet has other perks too. With a healthy population of gut bacteria, your body better absorbs minerals and can process glucose more efficiently. This may lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. In addition, “good” gut bacteria protect against the bad guys that cause intestinal infections and diarrhea. Plus, a healthy gut microbiome helps keep inflammation in check.
How can you get more prebiotic fiber in your diet to support the health of your gut microbiome? Here are some of the best food sources of prebiotics.
Jerusalem Artichoke is a tuber from the sunflower family. Jerusalem artichoke has a variety of names such as topinambur and earth apple. Jerusalem artichokes also referred to as sunchokes, are available all across North America. The plant is part of the sunflower tribe and a member of the daisy family. Jerusalem artichokes were originally grown in the Middle East and imported to North America during colonial times.
Jerusalem artichokes have prebiotic benefits because they contain a soluble fiber called inulin. In addition, sunchokes are rich in vitamin C, an antioxidant vitamin that supports immune health. One precaution: Jerusalem artichokes may produce flatulence if you’re not used to eating them. They can also make the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome worse because they’re high in FODMAPS. (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols)
Along with its prebiotic fiber, seaweed is an abundant source of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements, including iodine, an element you need for healthy thyroid function. Because of its nutrient density and high mineral content, some people refer to seaweed as a superfood, but most people rarely eat it. Maybe it’s time to change that! You can buy dried seaweed that you reconstitute with water at many health food stores and oriental food markets.
Oats are rich in a prebiotic fiber called beta-glucan. Beta-glucan has anti-inflammatory activity and also supports heart and immune health. You’ve probably heard that oats lower cholesterol, and that’s because of the beta-glucan they contain. Plus, gut-friendly bacteria love to munch on it, allowing them to grow and flourish.
In addition, oats contain resistant starch, a type of starch that has an anti-inflammatory effect on the lining of the colon. To get the most resistant starch from oats, cook them and let them cool down in the refrigerator overnight. This process increases the amount of resistant starch they produce. Who knew oatmeal could be so healthy?
Along with their prebiotic properties, dandelion greens are rich in vitamins C and K. They’re also an excellent source of minerals, including calcium, potassium, sodium, iron, and magnesium. Pretty remarkable for something you find on your front lawn! Don’t consume ones from your yard though since they may contain pesticides or other impurities. Buy them at the grocery store instead.
Dandelion greens have been used in cooking for centuries. You can add prepared dandelion greens to green salads and stir fry with them but include a source of fat, so you can absorb more of the fat-soluble nutrients, like vitamin K, in dandelion greens.
Who doesn’t love the potent flavor of garlic, especially if you’re a fan of Italian food? Garlic contains prebiotics that feeds beneficial gut bacteria and keeps harmful bacteria from gaining dominance in the intestines. Studies also show that garlic may lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, because of its ability to reduce blood clots and help with blood sugar control. Garlic also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity. After chopping it, let it sit for 5 minutes before cooking. This helps maximize its beneficial sulfur compounds.
Asparagus is rich in inulin, a type of prebiotic fiber. Enjoy it cooked since it’s hard to digest raw. Asparagus is also an excellent source of B-vitamin folate, a vitamin that lowers the risk of neural tube defects in unborn babies. Moreover, it has natural anti-inflammatory, diuretic properties. To maximize its nutritional value, don’t overcook it.
Onions are an excellent source of fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and inulin that supports the growth of healthy gut bacteria and boosts immune health.
Several studies show that people who eat a lot of onions or garlic have a lower incidence of cancer. An Israeli study found that 50% of the freshly cooked onion juice had an inhibitory effect on the growth and viability of several human cancer cell lines. Other recent studies confirm the anti-carcinogenic activity in onion extracts.
How can you enjoy the health benefits that onions offer? Onions are one of the most widely used veggies in cooking, whether raw or cooked. You can cook them with most other vegetables in stews, omelets, burgers, sandwiches, or those spicy tangy sauces.
Enjoy Prebiotics in Combination
Get even more health benefits by combining prebiotic-rich foods with fermented foods that contain natural probiotics. For example, add oats to your next serving of yogurt. Include some fermented foods, like yogurt with active cultures and fermented vegetables, in your diet too. The combination of prebiotic fiber and probiotics is a win-win for your gut.
- Monash.edu. (2021, June 28). Retrieved from “monash.edu/medicine/ccs/gastroenterology/prebiotic/faq”.
- Healthline.com. (2021, June 28). Retrieved from “healthline.com/nutrition/19-best-prebiotic-foods”.
- “Prebiotics Overview – WebMD.” .webmd.com/digestive-disorders/prebiotics-overview.
- “Prebiotics: Definition, Types, Sources, Mechanisms, and ….” 09 Mar. 2019, .ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6463098/.