Gut health seems to be top of everyone’s minds these days. And for good reason. Having a healthy gut contributes to everything from a strong immune system to effective digestion, improved mood, better sleep and more. Prebiotic foods are a key aspect of gut health, feeding the friendly bacteria in our gut and improving our digestive health overall. Want to know more about prebiotics and why they’re so important? We’re breaking it down for you here.
What Are Prebiotic Foods?
Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible dietary fibre that “feed” our healthy gut bacteria. While you may be acquainted with probiotics, prebiotics are the fuel that probiotics use to regulate a well-functioning gut. Probiotics produce beneficial bacteria, and prebiotics then provide nutrition or food for that beneficial bacteria.
Prebiotics bypass the small intestine and head to your colon where they’re fermented by the bacteria in your gut. When they’re fermented, they produce short-chain fatty acids that keep the colon healthy, maintain blood sugar balance and affect brain neuroplasticity. They help the microorganisms in our intestines grow and are often taken to give probiotics a boost.
Most high fibre foods naturally contain prebiotics, but you can also find them in supplement form. Be sure to look for capsules or powders that contain dietary fibres like inulin or FOS, which stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria.
What Are the Health Benefits of Prebiotic Foods?
- Increase friendly bacteria in the gut
- Help with digestive problems like constipation, bloating and diarrhea
- Boost your immune system
- Improve metabolic health
- Strengthen the colon wall
- Help prevent certain diseases, such as cancer (especially colon cancer)
- Aid with weight loss
- Help maintain healthy hormone levels
- Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Help manage stress
What’s Better: Prebiotic Foods or Supplements?
If you don’t have any problems with your gut (constipation, diarrhea, bloating) and eat a wide variety of foods, including ones like mushrooms, whole grains and flaxseeds, you should be able to get enough prebiotic foods in your diet. It’s best to get prebiotics from food sources, however, prebiotic supplements are great if you have problematic gut issues, as they help rebuild your gut flora. It’s important to note that if you take too many prebiotics in supplement form, you could experience bloating, gas and discomfort, so make sure to start slowly.
7 Pros of Prebiotic Foods
1. Support a healthy gut
2. Prevent a leaky gut
3. Improve your digestive health
4. Fewer antibiotic-related health problems
5. Improve calcium absorption
6. Change how quickly the body can process carbohydrates
7. Help reduce cravings and make you feel full
2 Pros of Prebiotic Supplements
1. If you are sick with gut issues, prebiotics will help rebuild your gut flora
2. Help fill the gap where your diet may be lacking
10 Prebiotic Foods to Eat for Gut Health
Legumes like lentils, beans and peas provide important prebiotics to the gut. Lentils contain nutrients like manganese, potassium, folate and iron, and are also packed with fibre, which helps with digestion and gastrointestinal health. Lentils also contain resistance starch, which is not digested by the small intestine, but can be fermented by gut bacteria.
Mushrooms are rich in healthy carbohydrates like chitin, beta and alpha glucans, as well as other compounds that act as prebiotics. Along with prebiotics, they also contain essential amino acids, as well as minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron and zinc, which support our energy production and immune system.
3. Jerusalem Artichokes
Also called “sunchokes”, Jerusalem artichokes contain numerous prebiotic compounds, such as inulin and oligofructose, as well as minerals, vitamins, potassium, iron and fibre. The prebiotic fibre within Jerusalem artichokes supports a balanced gut health, weight management and glucose control. They stimulate healthy bacteria, which may enhance absorption of important minerals like calcium and magnesium.
4. Dandelion Greens
Dandelion greens may be a bit bitter, but they pack a prebiotic punch. Along with other dark, leafy greens, dandelion greens contain lots of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, phosphorus, calcium and vitamin C and K. They’re packed with inulin fibre, which has been shown to boost the immune system, offer anti-inflammatory properties and increase good gut bacteria.
5. Whole Grains
Whole grains like oats, brown rice, whole grain bread and whole grain pasta are super high in fibre, acting as a prebiotic in the gut. Oats are particularly amazing, as the bacteria in the gut works to ferment the soluble fibre found in oats, which can lead to beneficial short-chain fatty acids in the colon and potentially lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. A bowl of oatmeal with berries and nut butter has soluble fibre and vitamin E to boost immunity and keep things moving in the gut.
6. Onions, Leeks, Scallions and Garlic
Onion, leeks, scallions and garlic are all vegetables of the Allium family, all of which contain prebiotics like flavonoids that are shown to positively influence our gut microbiota and support immune function and metabolism. Garlic in particular contains antioxidants, vitamin C and selenium, and scallions have antioxidants that prevent inflammation, as well as fibre and vitamin C. It should be noted that these foods can cause gastrointestinal issues for some people.
7. Chicory Root
Chicory is high in prebiotic inulin fibre which can improve digestion, bowel function and relieve constipation. It’s related to the dandelion family and is commonly baked, ground and used as a coffee substitute or fibre additive. Chicory also contains potassium, calcium, magnesium, selenium and zinc.
Asparagus is ripe with prebiotics, containing 2 to 3 grams of inulin per 100 grams. It will retain most of its prebiotic content if you cook it al dente, but is most potent if you eat it raw. Use it to make a salad or try shaving some over a stir fry.
Flaxseeds may be small, but they pack a nutritious punch! They’re an excellent source of prebiotics, as the fibre in flaxseeds promotes healthy gut bacteria, encourages regular bowel movements and reduces the dietary fat you digest and absorb. They’re also a rich source of antioxidants, reducing your risk of cancer and helping to regulate blood sugar levels. Sprinkle them on your yogurt or smoothies, or use them as a binding agent in baked goods.
Apples are an amazing source of pectin, a soluble fibre, which accounts for 50% of an apple’s fibre content. Pectin increases butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that feeds beneficial gut bacteria and decreases harmful bacteria. Apples can also improve heart health and reduce your risk of asthma and other pulmonary disorders.
Prebiotics are an important part of a healthy diet. Make sure you’re eating these foods on the regular for a healthy gut.
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