Prebiotics are a category of dietary fibers in certain foods which cannot be digested. These fibers move through the small intestine undigested and are fermented by the time they reach the colon, or large intestine. Prebiotics feed the beneficial bacteria colonies in the gut, including probiotic bacteria. Scientific studies have indicated that increasing prebiotic fiber supports our digestive and immune systems, bone density, weight management and brain health.
On the other hand, probiotics are a type of live, friendly bacteria that are naturally produced by the fermentation of certain foods. These help repopulate the colon with beneficial bacteria after taking antibiotics for a digestive illness. Antibiotics wipe out all bacteria, good and bad, so consuming probiotics is an important way to reset and balance your system.
Here are seven foods that provide prebiotics and six probiotic foods and drinks to incorporate into your diet:
With a coffee-like flavor, this root is popular in the southern USA as an alternative to coffee. It is packed with prebiotic fiber called inulin which nourishes the gut bacteria, enhances digestion, relieves constipation and increases bile production, which in turn improves fat digestion.
Raw onions offer organic sulfur compounds and contain Vitamin C and chromium to boost insulin production and protect you against free radicals. Peel off as little as possible before chopping or dicing. Cooked onions are also a high prebiotic food. Caramelize, fry, grill or sauté and enjoy this flavorful, healthy addition to your savory meal!
Chock full of nutrients, including manganese, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and selenium, garlic is a miracle food. To add raw garlic to your diet, make a habit of crushing a few cloves of it into the dish anytime you make guacamole, hummus, baba ganoush, vegetable stir fry or tomato sauce.
Whole oats are a healthy grain that contain beta-glucan fiber and resistant starch. Consumption of oats has been shown to promote healthy gut bacteria, reduce LDL cholesterol, improve blood sugar control, reduce the risk of certain cancers, slow down digestion and help with appetite control.
Raw Dandelion Greens
Loaded with nutrients, such as Vitamin K, Vitamin A, calcium, and iron, raw dandelion greens can help with blood clotting and bone strength. Toss them into salads, sandwiches, soups or herbal teas. If needed, you can blanch them in boiling water for 30 seconds to reduce their slightly acrid taste.
The fiber in flax seeds encourages the growth of healthy gut bacteria and promotes regularity. Integrating this healthy ingredient into your diet also assists by reducing the level of dietary fat digested and absorbed into the body. Flax seeds also have cancer preventing and antioxidant properties and help control blood sugar levels.
Last but not least, legumes are a rich source of protein and fiber. The group includes lentils, red/white/black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, fava beans, as well as lima beans, peas, peanuts, carob and tamarind.
This is an excellent probiotic food, made from milk fermented by beneficial bacteria.
Eating yogurt can help improve bone health, lower blood pressure and relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Be sure to consume yogurt with active or live cultures.
Kimchi is a Korean dish made of fermented cabbage and sometimes other fermented vegetables. It is a great source of vitamin K, vitamin B2 and iron. Kimchi has lactic acid bacterias that help improve the health of the digestive system. Its strong flavor is produced by an array of spices including red chili flakes, garlic, ginger, scallion and salt.
Miso is a Japanese seasoning made of fermented soybeans. Miso paste is the key ingredient in miso soup. It comes in several varieties, including white, yellow, red and brown.
Miso is a good source of protein and fiber. Miso has been linked to a lower risk of breast cancer and reduced risk of stroke thanks to its high levels of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin K, manganese and copper.
Kefir grains are cultures of lactic acid bacteria and yeast. This super healthy, fermented probiotic milk drink is produced by adding kefir grains to cow or goat milk. Kefir is an even more potent source of probiotics than yogurt and can improve bone health, assist with digestive problems and prevent infections.
As any modern yogi knows, kombucha is a fermented tea drink. Made from green, white or black tea fermented by beneficial bacteria and yeast, it offers a myriad of digestive health benefits due to its probiotic properties.
Sauerkraut is a stringent cabbage dish. Fermented by lactic acid bacteria, it will last for months in a closed container. In addition to its prebiotic and probiotic characteristics, sauerkraut is rich in vitamins C, B and K and contains iron and manganese, as well as antioxidants that assist eye health. Pasteurization kills active bacteria, so be sure to consume only non-pasteurized varieties.
Remember, probiotics are friendly bacteria which help prevent disease due to harmful gut bacteria and fungi, while prebiotics are food for these and other types of beneficial bacteria that live in our intestines. To maintain optimal gut health, both are essential to incorporate into your daily diet.