where to get prebiotics? look first to your diet

You might have heard of prebiotics, but how do these differ from probiotics? Simply put, prebiotics are the food that feeds the probiotics or the “good” bacteria in our bodies. It’s estimated that we have about 30 to 50 trillion bacterial cells in our bodies. Yes, trillions!  

These bacterial cells are part of a diverse community of microbes referred to as the microbiome. When the microbiome is imbalanced, studies have shown detrimental health effects that impact the digestive system and may also affect the immune system. Evidence has also been growing to show the microbes’ role in IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), colon cancer, type II diabetes, obesity, heart disease and arthritis, which all contribute to impacting our overall wellness.

That’s why it’s critical for us to maintain a healthy balance to help the “good” microbes thrive in the gut. This helps keep our bodies feeling good both inside and out. As our bodies are trying to maintain a happy, healthy balance, one of the best ways to support our “good” bacteria is to provide prebiotics, the optimal food for our bacteria. 

So, where are these prebiotics found? Prebiotics are found naturally in whole plant-based foods. Prebiotics by definition are indigestible fibers that feed and promote the growth of beneficial microbes in the intestines. By consuming both prebiotics and probiotics, you’re taking the first steps to building a healthy gut environment.

Here is a list of the best plant-based foods to increase prebiotics in your diet. Not only are they packed with prebiotics, they have phytochemicals (natural plant chemicals) shown to possibly “block substances we eat, drink and breathe from becoming carcinogens.” This means that not only can they support our gut, they may help block harmful agents from having potential to cause cancer. 

 

Foods with high prebiotic fibers:

  •     Alliums: garlic, onions, and leeks
  •     Asparagus
  •     Jerusalem artichokes also known as sunchokes
  •     Dandelion greens
  •     Bananas
  •     Seaweed

 

It’s important to note that fiber is only found in plant foods. In addition to this list, by sticking with vegetables, fruits, legumes (beans and lentils), and whole grains such as whole wheat, oats, and barley; you’ll be ensuring that your body is getting good sources of prebiotic fibers.

 

To maintain a healthy microbiome, here are some practices you should minimize:

      By taking unnecessary antibiotics or overuse kills off our “good” bacteria. About 70 percent of medical antibiotics in the United States are sold to farms and given to animals. These antibiotics then impact the health of Americans with over 2 million made sick from antibiotic-resistant infections.

 

      Meat decreases the growth of healthy bacteria and helps support the growth of “bad” bacteria. Trimethylamine N-Oxide (TMAO) is converted by bacteria with consumption of carnitine, found in meat. High levels of TMAO are associated with inflammation, atherosclerosis, heart attack, stroke, and death.

 

The Takeaway

 

A healthy plant-based diet is full of prebiotic fibers that supports a healthy diverse gut environment. Think about adding in these gut healthy foods to promote the “good” guys and be sure to minimize unhealthful habits so you’re not undoing all the good environment you’re building.

 

Plus, here’s a deliciously easy recipe to add more fiber into your everyday routine!

Carrot Cake Overnight Oats
Serving: 1
Prep Time: 5 minutes


photo credit: jeffers.tina

Ingredients
6 oz soy milk (or your choice of plant milk - almond, hemp, pea) 
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup rolled oats
2 tbsp carrots, shredded
1 tbsp coconut, shredded
1 tbsp raisins (or your choice of dried fruit)
1 tbsp nuts, chopped
1 tsp maple syrup (optional)
 
Directions
  1. In a mason jar or reusable container add milk, cinnamon and vanilla then stir
  2. Add oats, carrots, coconut, raisins and nuts and mix till combined
  3. Seal the jar or container and place in refrigerator overnight
  4. Take on-the-go or enjoy right away!

 

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Article by Sherene Chou, MS, RD • August 1, 2019

Sherene is an award-winning dietitian and chef focused on building a more sustainable world through plant-based nutrition education.