Here are the prebiotic foods you should be eating to improve your gut health and the best ways to prepare them.
You’ve probably heard of probiotics, bacteria that offer us health benefits when we consume them. It is important to consume foods rich in probiotics, but we should not forget to include foods rich in prebiotics in our diet either.
Prebiotics are substances found in certain foods that selectively feed the good gut bacteria so they thrive and keep us healthy. Including a variety of prebiotics in your diet helps prevent takeover by bad bacteria and encourages good bacteria to produce anti-inflammatory compounds called short-chain fatty acids that nourish the cells in the body’s lining. Most prebiotics are types of fiber, and some are phytochemicals, which are bioactive compounds found in plants. If our gut microbiome were a garden, prebiotics would be its fertilizer. Fortunately, there are many prebiotic-rich foods that cater to a variety of dietary needs and taste preferences. With a little thought and planning, you can easily incorporate prebiotic-rich foods into every meal to support the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
Here are five prebiotic-rich foods to add to your diet right now.
1. Cooking with garlic, onions, shallots and leeks
Vegetables in the leek family, such as garlic, onions, shallots, shallots, and leeks, all contain fructans, a type of prebiotic fiber. Humans don’t have the enzymes needed to break down fructans, so they end up in the colon where our good microbes use them for food and break them down through fermentation. It produces short-chain fatty acids as a byproduct, which are compounds shown to reduce inflammation, promote a healthy weight, and improve insulin sensitivity, according to a March 2020 study published in the journal Nutrients. In addition, short-chain fatty acids make the intestinal environment more acidic, which increases mineral absorption. According to a study published in February 2021 in the International Journal for Vitamin and Nutrition Research, by feeding good gut microbes and boosting the production of short-chain fatty acids, fructans are believed to increase our absorption of calcium and improve bone density.
Leeks also stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial gut bacteria like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium while decreasing the growth and activity of harmful bacteria, as highlighted in a study published in the journal Foods in August 2021. These changes in the gut microbiome could help prevent chronic diseases like inflammatory bowel disease and obesity.
To add more leeks to your meals and reap the benefits of fructans:
Sauté with a generous amount of sautéed garlic and onions.
Add leeks to soups and stews.
Sprinkle chopped onions on salads and sautéed dishes.
Season with garlic and onion powder (if choosing garlic or onion powder, look for brands that only contain dehydrated garlic or onion to get the full benefits and avoid unnecessary additives).
2. Blend unripe bananas into smoothies
While it might seem strange to prefer unripe bananas over ripe bananas for your morning smoothie, unripe bananas actually have more prebiotic fiber than ripe bananas, according to a 2021 study published in the journal PLoS One. Unripe bananas contain resistant starch, a type of starch that resists digestion in the upper gastrointestinal tract and then makes its way to the large intestine, where it acts as a prebiotic to selectively feed good gut microbes. As a banana ripens, this resistant starch is converted to simple sugars that don’t have the same prebiotic effects. Resistant starch consumption may also help with weight management and obesity prevention due to its positive impact on the gut microbiome as well as its ability to promote satiety and blood sugar stability, according to a study published in the journal Nutrients in June 2019.
To start your day with a healthy dose of prebiotics, try making a delicious morning smoothie by blending a slightly unripe banana with plain Greek yogurt, chia seeds, and cocoa powder, a date for sweetening, and just enough unsweetened almond milk to blend. However, it should be noted that if you are allergic to latex, you may need to avoid eating less ripe bananas, which contain proteins that are similar in structure to latex and may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. .
3. Add chia seeds and flaxseeds to yogurt, oatmeal and smoothies.
Chia seeds and flaxseeds are best known for their nutrient density, but they are also excellent sources of prebiotics. A June 2019 study published in the journal Nutrients shows that chia seed consumption is associated with reduced inflammatory markers in people with type 2 diabetes, and their prebiotic fiber content likely plays a role.
According to a May 2019 review published in Nutrients journal, flaxseed may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, including breast cancer. The authors of the study attribute this phenomenon to the lignan content of flaxseed. Lignans, which are a prebiotic, are fermented by good gut microbes and through the fermentation process are converted into compounds that have been linked to both a reduced risk of breast cancer and reduced cancer mortality.
Chia seeds and flaxseeds can add a slightly nutty flavor to dishes. To complement this flavor, sprinkle them over fruits like berries over yogurt or oatmeal, or blend them into a banana for a smoothie. In addition, chia seeds can change the texture of food due to their high content of soluble fiber, which forms a viscous gel when wet. You can take advantage of this gelling property by using it to thicken your oatmeal and make it more filling. Added to yogurt, chia seeds form a consistency similar to rice pudding. Just add the flavoring of your choice like cinnamon, vanilla extract and a dash of honey for a delicious chia seed pudding.
4. Replace meat with beans and legumes several times a week
Beans and legumes like chickpeas, black beans, and lentils are not only great plant proteins, they’re also high in prebiotic fiber called galactooligosaccharides (GOS). According to a study published in March 2021 in the journal Biomolecules, this specific type of prebiotic fiber increases beneficial bifidobacteria in the gut, which have been studied for their ability to improve blood lipid profiles, as highlighted in a 2019 study published in the journal Vascular Brasileiro. Additionally, a clinical study published in January 2022 in the journal Nutrients shows that GOS can improve constipation in adults, likely due to an increase in bifidobacteria in the gut.
Incorporating some plant-based meals with beans and legumes into your weekly rotation can do wonders for your health. In fact, a study of more than 40,000 American men, published in the British Medical Journal in 2020, shows that replacing meat with plant-based proteins like beans and prebiotic-rich legumes reduces the risk of disease.
Try making veggie chili by incorporating some types of beans, experiment with black bean tacos, use lentils in Bolognese sauce, or make baked falafel with chickpeas. You can also increase the prebiotic content of your favorite recipes by replacing some or all of the meat with an equal amount of beans and legumes.
5. Satisfy your sugar cravings with dark chocolate
As if we needed another reason to eat chocolate, cocoa contains polyphenols, natural antioxidants that are poorly digested by our bodies but fermented by our good gut microbes. A June 2020 study published in the journal Nutrients shows that cocoa polyphenols increase beneficial gut bacteria like lactobacilli and bifidobacteria while decreasing harmful bacteria like Clostridium perfringens. These changes in the gut microbiome are associated with reduced inflammation and improved immune function. However, not all chocolates are created equal. The higher the cocoa content in chocolate, the stronger its prebiotic effect. To support a healthy gut microbiome, it’s best to opt for a dark chocolate bar that contains at least 70% cocoa.
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