You have probably heard about food more probioticsthe living microorganisms that keep your gut health in check, but have you heard about eating more prebiotics, eating in front of those microorganisms? We talked to experts to break down what prebiotics are, why you need them, and what are the best prebiotic foods to support your gut.
Why should we eat for gut health?
The food we eat has a big impact on our overall gut health, he explains Rachael Hartley, RDauthor of Gentle Nutrition. “Simply eating and having food in your stomach sets off a cascade of muscle contractions that move food through the gut,” she explains. Firstly, proteins, fat and carbohydrates trigger the release of digestive enzymes that break down food into smaller and smaller pieces. Some parts are absorbed for energy and the rest is left to contribute to the gut microbiome, the community of organisms that live in the gut, says Hartley.
The health of our microbiome affects our mental health, immunity and risk of chronic disease, she adds, and the food we eat can have an effect on our stool and the speed at which food moves through the gut.
What are prebiotics?
There is actually quite a difference between them prebiotics and probiotics. While probiotics, such as yogurt or miso, are foods fortified with good gut microflora, prebiotics are foods that have the nutrients to feed that gut microflora, explains Sunny Jain, MDgastroenterologist and Sun Genomics founder
These foods contain non-digestible dietary fibers that the human body cannot break down and absorb through the intestinal tract as well as other minerals and vitamins. So, the good gut microbes work to metabolize and ferment those prebiotic fibers that ultimately benefit us and our gut health, he adds. The compounds strengthen the intestinal wall, strengthen the immune system and may reduce the risk of colon cancer, says Hartley.
“To be clear, the purpose of a prebiotic food is not to provide nutrition to you and your physiology, but to your commensal gut microbes and their microphysiology, generally called gut health,” said Dr. says Jain. “By feeding these beneficial microflora in the gut, we, the host, benefit from the molecules they release into our gut, such as short-chain fatty acids. If you don’t feed your good gut bugs the prebiotics which they need, you can end up with a leaky gut.
So, you might think that the highest calorie foods are the best to feed your gut, right? Well, not so much. Dr. Jain explains that your gut contains both good and bad microbes, and inflammatory foods like fried foods or high glycemic foods with simple sugars or high fructose corn syrup actually serve as food for the gut’s harmful microbes. Instead, opt for high-fiber foods full of gut-strengthening benefits.
However Sameer Berry, MDChief Medical Officer at Oshi Health notes that it is important to remember other factors such as genetics, lifestyle choices, and environmental influences when it comes to our gut health, diet is a factor that we to be able Check. Here are the best prebiotic foods for gut health to add to your diet.
The best prebiotic foods for gut health
Lentils, pulses and beans all fall under the umbrella of legumes and each provides vital prebiotics to the gut. Lentils for example not only come with manganese, potassium, folate, and iron, but they have a large 16 grams of fiber per cup, which can help with digestion and gastrointestinal health. In addition, lentils offer resistant starch that is not digested by the small intestine, but can be fermented by intestinal bacteria, explains Dr. Berry.
Your salad can help your gut a bit. Leafy greens like calf bring fiber, folate, and B vitamins to your plate in addition to vitamin C, and research suggests that leafy greens may increase the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
Due to the high fiber present in 100% whole grain foods, such as brown rice, whole grain bread, and whole grain pasta, they act as a prebiotic in the intestine, explains Nicole Lindel, RDN. And while we love all whole grains, oats, in particular, can pack in the prebiotics. A bowl of plain oatmeal with fresh fruit and nut butter has soluble fiber and vitamin E that works to improve immunity and keep things in your gut. Dr. Berry adds that bacteria in the gut works to ferment the soluble fiber found in oats, which can lead to beneficial short-chain fatty acids in the gut and potentially lower LDL cholesterol.
Sometimes also called sunchokes, these root vegetables are high in vitamins, potassium, iron, and fiber. But they are best known for the high amounts of prebiotic fiber present, which can help support health, glucose control, weight management and overall health. Dr. Berry notes that Jerusalem artichokes are also a high FODMAP food (fermentable oligo-di-mono-saccharides and polyols). These foods are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and are often quickly fermented in the large intestine, he explains. Many people benefit from these foods because they support a healthy gut microbiome and provide prebiotics, but others are sensitive and can cause GI distress, he warns.
Onions, leeks, garlic and onions
You can hear about this group in reference to a low-FODMAP diet as well, along with dozens of other fruits, vegetables, and sugars. But, for those who do not experience gastrointestinal problems from these foods, they can provide much needed prebiotics. In addition, garlic contains antioxidants, vitamin C, selenium, and scallions have antioxidants that can prevent inflammation, more fiber than you’d expect (5% of the daily allowance), and a good amount of vitamin C.
Packed with inulin fiber, dandelion greens have been demonstrated to reduce constipation, boost the immune system, offer anti-inflammatory properties and increase good gut bacteria. If you have never tried the green, give it a go Sautéed Dandelion Toast recipe a try.
Related to the dandelion family, research has found that chicory is rich in prebiotic inulin fiber, which can improve digestion, bowel function and relieve constipation. Dr. Berry notes that chicory root is often added to processed foods such as fiber bars, gluten-free foods, and some cereals. Although this is used to increase fiber content and naturally sweeten products, the ingredient can sometimes cause unwanted GI distress in some people.
Similar to the benefits of other vegetables such as broccoli and leafy greens, cabbage has a high amount of fiber, vitamin K, vitamin A, and iron. Research has shown that cabbage (specifically raw cabbage) provides prebiotics to the gut that can improve gut health.
Arielle Weg is the associate editor at Prevention and loves to share her favorite wellness and nutrition obsessions. She previously managed content at The Vitamin Shoppe, and her work has also appeared in Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Cooking Light, MyRecipes, and more. You can usually find her taking an online training class or making a mess in the kitchen, making something delicious that she found in her cookbook collection or saved on Instagram.