Within each of us are trillions of microorganisms (bacteria), and they have our back (or rather our GI tracts!). However, the “thin bugs” that aid us in maintaining our waistlines can’t do it alone–they need our help. Nourishing the right kinds of microbes and creating more biodiversity in the gut is one of the best keys to good health I’ve found.
I’ve dedicated my career to exploring the relationship between a healthy gut and a healthy body.
Quick Fact: Probiotics are important, but they’re at their best when you ingest prebiotic fibers as well. Without one, packing your diet with the other isn’t as primed—the key is having a balance. If you have plenty of probiotics but no prebiotic fiber to feed them, they won’t “feed” off each other—that’s why it’s important to have plenty of both in your food.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics aren’t exactly “all the rage” yet; right now they’re akin to nutrition’s best kept secret–and I’m about to let you in on them. The first thing you should know is that a prebiotic fiber is actually “non-digestible”; it’s their hidden power. Our inability to digest these fibers allows them to pass unharmed through our GI tract and act as fuel for the healthy bacteria. Prebiotic fibers aren’t to be confused with the probiotics that we’re trying to cultivate. Think of the probiotic as the bacteria we’re hoping will stick around, and the prebiotic as the incentive for those strains to stick around–even bugs have to eat.
Even better: they’re not just bacterial fuel, but aid in our resistance to invading pathogens and stimulate metabolic activity. The most common source of prebiotic goodness is the inulin fiber; though oligosaccharides are the best known variety.
Best Sources of Prebiotics in Food
Now that you know how wonderful and important prebiotic fiber is, I’m here to help you by recommending the following four foods as my top picks:
Rich in dietary fiber and oligosaccharides, seaweed is rich in prebiotic potential making this sea vegetable one of my favorite sources to include in your diet.
In a study, the population of beneficial bacteria increased, and the abundance of pathogenic species such as Clostridium septicum and Streptococcus pneumonia decreased. Higher concentrations of short chain fatty acids (i.e., gut microbial metabolites), including acetic, propionic and butyric acids, were also noted.
If you can tolerate garlic and onions, try having raw or pickled from Original Pickled Garlic from Majestic Garlic .
Onions and Garlic
While you may not want to ingest either of these during a romantic date, adding them into your diet (especially raw) is well worth the halitosis. It turns out that onions and garlic are chalk full of inulin (the most common form of prebiotic). I rate onions and garlic as my top prebiotic pick!
The fiber in oats ferment into short-chain fatty acids in the digestive tract and feed the beneficial microbes in your intestines. Soak 1-cup of oats overnight in coconut milk, and you’ll have a super healthy breakfast waiting for you in the morning–add fresh berries and raw nuts to top!
There are 2 “types” of artichoke you can go for here, the Jerusalem and the traditional. The Jerusalem artichoke is recognized as a great source of inulin, and is known for it’s ability to relieve constipation and increase your absorption rates for a variety of vitamins and minerals (calcium especially, your bones will thank you later).
One of the major health benefits found in the Greek diet is the consumption of wild greens, often referred to as dandelion greens. It’s almost impossible for some to consume this bitter leaf “raw,” but if you’re feeling super adventurous and want to spruce up those “thin” microbes, aim for the stars and consume this bitter green!
Raw Asparagus and Jicama are also great food sources!
Prebiotic and Probiotic: Working Hand in Hand
It’s important to remember that both probiotics and prebiotics work together synergistically and finding that balance between the two is ideal. The easiest way to strike that balance is to eat the ancestral Mediterranean way, or Wild Mediterranean.
Read All About It: Prebiotic Studies
Nutr Res. 2015 Mar 14 [Targeting gut microbiota as a possible therapy for diabetes].
Studies will highlight the dynamic role of gut bacteria and diabetes.
Treatments will include prebiotics as a means to gaining more gut diversity–or favorable strains.
Gastroenterol Hepatol.. 2015 Mar 10 [Characterization, influence and manipulation of the gastrointestinal microbiota in health and disease]. Look for a similar outcome like the mapping of our DNA. The gut micrbiome will be “mapped” and used for many different studies–especially in immunology/inflammation.
J Physiol Biochem. 2015 Mar 8 [Gut microbiota: a key player in health and disease. A review focused on obesity].One of the hottest topics in obesity research to date: How does gut bacteria affect obesity? Targeting obesity through the use of prebiotic foods seems like a reasonable dietary intervention.
ASN Neuro. 2015 Feb [Nutrition facts in multiple sclerosis.].Based on studies like this, look for dietary interventions with inflammatory diseases like Multiple Sclerosis. Those diets will aim to restore healthy populations of gut bacteria–they may even identify more pathogenic strains known to cause harm in the immune system of MS patients.
Nutrients. 2015 Feb [Novel approaches to improve the intrinsic microbiological safety of powdered infant milk formula].Baby formula gets a long awaited makeover because of studies on infant digestive health and their fragile immune systems.