Good health starts in the gut—what Hippocrates knew all along as a physician and philosopher in Greece 460 to 370 BC continues to be disseminated and advertised to the level of hype today.
There are good reasons for people in health circles to do so, particularly since the largest microbial area in your body—with some two kilograms of microbes—resides in your digestive system. At the same time, up to 80% of your immune system resides in your gut.
When an imbalance occurs, your digestive tract fails to digest and absorb nutrients properly. Inflammation may occur and affect other systems of the body.
When something wrong happens in your gut, your brain functions and mood get out of whack as well.
Probiotics vs Prebiotics
There are indigenous probiotics in your large intestine, healthy living microorganisms that contribute to a healthy digestive system. You can also get them through fermented products (yogurt, kefir, and cheese), kombucha, kimchi, miso, raw honey, and the like.
Meanwhile, prebiotics are the food that your resident probiotics feed on. There should be enough probiotics nourished by as much prebiotic food to keep away the bad bacteria in the gut from multiplying and harming your body.
Foods Rich in Prebiotics
On their own, prebiotics can’t be digested by the body. But bacteria ferment them in the colon and turn them into short-chain fatty acids. These acids, in turn, give energy to cells of the digestive tract.
How can you have more of it in your diet? You can eat more of the following:
Foods high in fiber usually have high prebiotic content. These include:
- Chicory root
Chicory root is almost 65% fiber in terms of weight, making it one of the leading sources of prebiotics.
You can ferment vegetables using the chicory root or take it as a coffee substitute. You can also use its powdered form for baked recipes.
- Jerusalem artichokes
Raw Jerusalem artichokes, which contain about 31% fiber, shouldn’t be confused with the globe or green artichokes usually found at your local grocer. Also referred to as earth apples, Jerusalem artichokes look more like ginger and can be eaten raw so they can be shredded then added to salads.
They can also be roasted or pureed and made into soup.
- Dandelion greens
You can reduce the acrid taste from raw dandelion greens by blanching them for about half a minute. They can be tossed into soups, salads, stews, sandwiches, teas, or even green smoothies. Dandelion greens contain 24.3% prebiotic fiber.
Uncooked garlic is 17.5% fiber by weight. To add more to your diet, prepare or serve them with hummus, mashed potatoes, guacamole, salsa, or sauces for pasta and other meals.
Include leeks in your green salad or pasta, or feature it in your quiche as an edible garnish. Raw leeks have higher prebiotic content (11.7% fiber) than when they’re cooked.
The fiber content of the following is below 10% but are still among the top sources of prebiotics:
You can sauté, fry, grill, or caramelize onions. Of course, there’s the ever-famous French onion soup with oven-melted provolone cheese.
- Raw asparagus
You chop then blend it into a smoothie or ferment it.
- Raw wheat bran
Raw wheat bran can be combined with your yogurt, morning cereal, or smoothies.
- Baked wheat flour
Pastry is denser and more flavorful when wheat flour is used instead of white flour.
You can add apples to your salad, yogurt, juices, or smoothie. Findings from one study showed that freshly harvested, organic apples carried more healthy bacteria than store-bought apples.
- Resistant starches
Resistant starch is a type of carbohydrate that can’t be digested in the small intestine but ferments in the large intestine.
- Raw banana
Dietitians say that unripe bananas contain more prebiotics than ripe ones. Since green bananas may be too bitter and a little tough to eat on their own, you can warm them up or try adding them to smoothies.
- Beans, peas, and lentils
Add lentils and beans to your salads or soup. Or try this recipe for Lentil Pea Salad from Winnow.
- Whole grains
Oats, barley, cassava flour, or potato starch lose their resistant starch when they’re cooked or baked so try sprinkling them on your food.
- Potatoes and rice
You can increase resistant starch in rice and potatoes by cooking them and cooling them then reheating them later before consumption.
Polyphenols are micronutrients found in many plant-based food and beverage that give them their color and taste. They include berries, citrus fruits, chocolate, coffee, tea, and pomegranates.
Another way to have more of prebiotics in your daily diet is to take prebiotic pills. It’s an easy way to ensure you get your daily dose of prebiotics when you can’t get hold of ingredients or prepare food containing them.
Possible Side Effects
While prebiotics promotes gut health through better nutrient absorption, fat metabolism, and immunity, the intake of prebiotic-rich food may not suit everyone. Some experience bloating, gas, and stomach discomfort in the first days of eating such foods.
Consult with your doctor about taking prebiotics if you have any gastrointestinal disorder.