Most people are aware that probiotics and plant-based, fiber-rich foods offer a variety of health benefits. Nearly all of these benefits work to maintain a healthy digestive system. So how do prebiotics factor into the equation? The answer is that they typically don’t for most Americans, given that the average American experiences indigestion, inflammation, weight gain, or impaired immune function.
Probiotics and prebiotics work hand-in-hand to support your microbiome, also known as the trillions of bacteria living in your body. Probiotic foods aid with healing the gut, but prebiotics feed the probiotics to enhance the health benefits. When healthy bacteria are more prevalent in the body, you tend to feel a lot better. Your metabolism functions smoothly, you have better energy, and your weight stays at a healthy level. When unhealthy bacteria are more prevalent in the body, you tend to crave sugar, your immune system is weakened, you feel fatigued, and you can experience anxiety.
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are comprised of non-digestible fiber compounds that pass, undigested, through the upper part of the digestive tract. They travel to the colon, where they ferment and become healthy gut bacteria, which produce nutrients that work to keep the colon and digestive system healthy. These nutrients can include short-chain fatty acids, which can be absorbed into the bloodstream for metabolic health.
Prebiotics feed friendly bacteria and help them multiply on their own. Prebiotics work with probiotics to allow positive compositional changes to take place in the digestive system. The two of them work in unison to maintain diversity of intestinal flora by increasing the amount of healthy bacteria. Increased consumption of prebiotics has been associated with healthier cholesterol levels, better immune function, decreased inflammation, better gut health, and a lower risk of obesity and weight gain. Try adding the following prebiotic foods to your diet to see how you feel.
Roughly 11% of garlic’s fiber comes from inulin and 6% comes from a naturally occurring prebiotic called fructooligosaccharides (FOS). Promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, garlic also helps to inhibit the growth of disease-causing bacteria.
Jerusalem Artichokes (Sunchokes)
These are more like root vegetables than the common green artichokes. They can be roasted, shredded on top of a salad, or blended into a smoothie. Their flavor is mild and they have been known to increase friendly bacteria in the colon. Sunchokes also work to strengthen the immune system and aid with healthy nervous system function.
Incredibly high in antioxidants, chicory root is a great digestive cleanser. Chicory root is commonly used to make cultured vegetables like kimchi or sauerkraut. Roughly 47% of chicory root fiber comes from the prebiotic fiber, inulin, which helps to relieve constipation. It can also help increase bile production.
Probably one of the easiest ways to get prebiotics into your diet, onions have tons of antioxidants that boost the immune system. Onions and garlic are similar in that 6% of the fiber comes from FOS, which helps to break down fat and increases nitric oxide production in cells.
Dandelion greens are rich in fiber and can be used in salads or smoothies. They are excellent an excellent source of prebiotics and antioxidants. These greens are also known for their anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, diuretic, and cholesterol lowering effects.
Other Prebiotic Sources
- Greenish Bananas