We all know good bacteria are living in our guts, known as probiotics. Notice the keyword there? Live. What do all living things need? Food! That’s why to keep the probiotics alive in your body; you need to feed them prebiotics.
What Are Prebiotics?
You hear a lot about probiotics. All the latest health magazines swear by taking these supplements. However, not everyone taking these supplements is seeing the results they desire .
That’s because probiotics are living cultures. To maximize their work for you, put in a little work for them. Feed them a daily diet of prebiotic fibers.
Prebiotics are nutrients that come from carbs (mostly fiber) that selectively feed beneficial bacteria. Many of the prebiotic compounds are not digestible food ingredients. So, our live cultures take over and go nom-nom.
It is essential to keep in mind that many of the items your body can’t break down, your gut bacteria eat. All those times your mom tried to force broccoli on your plate, she was onto something. These are the foods that healthy bacteria enjoy eating.
So, if you are eating processed foods with artificial ingredients, then you are selling your good gut bacteria up the river. Bad bacteria love these foods. That’s why long-term consumption of highly-processed foods can lead to many long-term illnesses.
The discovery of prebiotics is one of the most significant breakthroughs for scientific concepts of functional foods. Incorporating a wide variety of foods rich in specific prebiotic fiber can really improve the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
Health Benefits of Prebiotic Effects
Prebiotics are essential for the many health-beneficial changes that come with intestinal bacterial balance. Here are some science-backed benefits associated with the effects of prebiotics.
Improve Gut Barrier
Our intestines do a lot of dirty work. The large intestine ferments many non-digestible short-chain carbohydrates. The end result creates and absorbs vitamins and electrolytes.
Meanwhile, the small intestine produces digestive enzymes and absorbs many nutrients and minerals . Our cells use these as electrical currency for many biological functions that are essential for the human body to function.
As the large bowel and small intestine do their thing, the nutrients enter the bloodstream. It does so by permeating through the gut barrier via our tight junctions.
Whenever we eat harmful foods that disrupt our digestive system, it causes inflammation. When chronic inflammation persists, it eventually ruins the integrity of our tight junctions. As a result, we miss out on efficiently absorbing nutrients. Plus, toxins from the intestines can enter the system and drive up even more inflammation!
Prebiotics help with the growth of good bacteria. Like us, our bacteria create waste. As a thank you for your service, the good bacteria will provide you with beneficial metabolites. In particular, you receive short-chain fatty acids.
Short-chain fatty acids are catalysts for gut cell functions. In particular, butyrate helps improve compromised cells around the gut barrier.
Boost Immune System
Eating high-fiber foods will improve your immune system because there will be fewer pathogens for your immune cells to contend with. Our gut flora work in unison with immune cells to help prevent microbial imbalances.
Whenever opportunistic bacteria get out of control, our innate immune system causes inflammation. After the threat is gone, the immune system cells stop inflammation. All is well again.
Unfortunately, our digestive health is always under attack from poor dietary habits, toxins in the atmosphere, or viruses. So, the immune system is always on high alert. That leaves us more susceptible to inflammation.
Thankfully, scientific evidence suggests gut bacteria play a significant role in modulating our immune system . The two entities communicate, with healthy bacteria being able to curb inflammation throughout the digestive tract.
In turn, your immune system’s resources are preserved. It will remain free to find other potential threats and be strong when real danger hits.
Better Digestive Health
Studies show that the use of prebiotics can improve many digestive health problems . In fact, consuming high-fiber foods is one of the common dietary recommendations for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
IBS recommendations are dependent on symptoms and types of dietary fiber. If you are experiencing symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome-Diarrhea (IBS-D), you might want some more insoluble fiber. Insoluble fiber helps create bulk in liquid stool.
If you are experiencing symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome-Constipation (IBS-C), consider adding some soluble fiber to your diet. Soluble fiber will create more biomass, but it will have a more gelatinous texture. So, it should help the stool pass easier.
It’s important to get these types of issues within the GI tract under control. Left unchecked, it can lead to worse issues down the road, such as colon cancer.
When you start using dietary fiber, start slowly. Large doses may possibly upset the system and exacerbate your symptoms.
Consuming prebiotics might also improve your weight. Recent research found that prebiotics stimulates the production of intestinal hormones, including neuropeptide YY (PYY) . These hormones impact gut motility, which can improve digestive health. However, these hormones also influence appetite.
Neuropeptide lines the small intestine barrier and affects satiety. This action starts digestion and helps boost nutrient absorption. When consuming prebiotic-rich foods on a regular basis, regular weight maintenance is one of the varieties of health benefits!
Blood Sugar Control
Prebiotics also play a significant role in the production of another intestinal hormone, glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1). While nobody knows why yet, clinical studies show that those with type-2 diabetes tend to have low levels of GLP-1 .
GLP-1 plays a significant role in promoting glucose-dependent insulin release from the pancreas. Also, this hormone plays a role in satiety. So, you are less likely to overindulge in foods that might promote a spike in blood sugar.
Why Prebiotics Are Important for Probiotics
At Thryve, we offer at-home microbiome testing that gives us the unique opportunity to offer you a custom probiotic supplement. This step in managing your overall health is pivotal for success. Your DNA gives a blueprint where we can foster a solid foundation for a healthy lifestyle together.
By taking the guesswork out of your wellness plan, we can map a course to a healthy gut. Our program takes into consideration which bacteria we’re trying to help you grow.
We then match those probiotic bacteria up to the prebiotic fibers they are scientifically shown to prefer. Knowing the bacteria in your gut allows us to make dietary recommendations tailored to the good bacteria you’re lacking. We recommend foods rich in prebiotic fiber that will actively feed the beneficial bacteria in your custom supplement.
There are prebiotic supplements out there. Even the best prebiotic supplement might not be the one that’s right for your unique gut microbiome. The easiest way to ensure your probiotics are being fed is by tailoring your diet to feed the live microorganisms in your supplement.
What Are the Best Prebiotics?
So, which are the best prebiotic foods to improve your gut health? Let’s take a look!
Affectionately known as “The earth apple,” Jerusalem artichoke contains 2 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams. 76% of this fiber comes from a healthy complex sugar known as inulin. Inulin is only 1.5 calories per gram, so it won’t lead to excess weight as your good bacteria munches away on the sugars.
Prebiotic fiber inulin is an ingredient in some of our probiotic recommendations. You might even see it in some herbal teas under the names raw chicory root or chicory inulin.
Not into artichokes? Try steaming raw asparagus. You will get many of the same prebiotic effects. These are just some of the many ways you can incorporate prebiotics into your diet!
Here is a delicious Jerusalem artichoke recipe from AllRecipes.
This is a really convenient way to up your prebiotics intake. Dandelion greens can be used in a variety of salads, smoothies, sandwiches, shakes, or teas. These healthy greens have 4 grams of fiber per 100-gram serving. While most of this fiber comes from inulin, dandelion greens do not contain as much of this natural sugar as Jerusalem artichokes.
Additionally, dandelion greens are a diuretic. This is helpful in eliminating potential toxins from the body, making the lives of the probiotics living in your gut a lot easier.
Here’s a mouth-watering Sauteed Dandelion Greens side dish courtesy of Epicurious.
This grain contains a lot of the prebiotic fiber beta-glucan. It can have 3 to 8 grams per 100-gram serving. Beta-glucan can help lower LDL cholesterol . Excess LDL cholesterol is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease.
By consuming these whole grains, it will help blood circulate freely throughout the system. Also, having lower levels of LDL cholesterol ensures no inflammations are free to spur in the belly and that the heart is pumping strongly .
While barley is used to make beer, this isn’t an ideal way to get your prebiotics. Long-term use of alcohol can do more harm to your gut than good.
Instead of a beer, try out this Mushroom Barley recipe from The Food Network.
Garlic has been known to do wonders for the heart (and repel vampires), but it’s also useful in creating a healthier microbiome. Garlic contains a high level of a natural prebiotic known as fructooligosaccharides (FOS).
A study on FOS found,
“Fermentation of FOS in the colon results in a large number of physiologic effects including increasing the numbers of bifidobacteria in the colon, increasing calcium absorption, increasing fecal weight, shortening of gastrointestinal transit time, and possibly lowering blood lipid levels .“
Here is a delicious garlic-rich meal, Shrimp in Garlic Sauce, courtesy of Healthy Seasonal Recipes.
Raw onions are alliums like garlic. So, they also have an abundance of FOS. However, onions also have an important chemical compound called quercetin. Studies have found that this flavonoid has an inhibitory effect on the growth of cancerous cell cycle progression .
Also, onions have potent antimicrobial and antifungal traits. These pungent compounds can help prevent pathogens from overthrowing your beneficial gut microbiota.
Want to step up your onion game? Try this French Onion Bone Broth Soup courtesy of Fat Burning Man.
When people see the word “wheat,” they run for the hills. That’s because there is a dark side of wheat. However, wheat bran, the hull outside the grain, is prebiotic-rich.
The hull is made out of a fiber known as arabinoxylan oligosaccharides (AXOS). In its purest form, the wheat brain contains up to 69% of this fiber. AXOS has been shown to boost healthy bacteria strain, Bifidobacteria . In turn, wheat bran can help alleviate abdominal pain and other digestive issues .
Try out a healthy Wheat Bran Muffin recipe courtesy of Ambitious Kitchen.
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of essential vitamins and minerals. It’s also one of the most nutrient-dense and filling foods. You can easily fill up on sweet potatoes, leaving less room for dessert!
This Thanksgiving staple has a ton of resistant starch. That means it takes a long time for your digestive tract to break down these carbohydrates. However, your friendly bacteria feast all day long. They’ll thank you with energizing metabolites that help push you through your day!
Try Mediterranean Sweet Potatoes from Minimalist Baker.
These tropical fruits are an amazing source of vital nutrients, especially potassium. However, green bananas also contain prebiotics that helps your digestive system work more efficiently.
You can tell the banana’s prebiotic content by the color of its peel. Learn all about the banana prebiotics hack your gut health needs.
Check out this gut-friendly superfood spirulina smoothie: Spirulina Smoothie with Banana, Orange, and Mango (Paleo) by Perchance to Cook.
The best way to feed the probiotics in your gut is to add more to the party. There’s such a thing as the power in numbers. Fermented foods are a great way to add active cultures into your system. When foods are fermented, live bacteria feast on the sugars and are preserved in a brine. This allows these healthy critters to make their way to your system.
Fermented foods include:
Here’s a recipe for Easy Fermented Pickles via Scratch Mommy.
Help Grow Bacterial Species with Prebiotics
There are various food products that differ in levels of digestible fiber compounds and other nutrients conducive to a healthy gut microbiome. Finding the right pieces to complete this culinary puzzle is reliant on the current state of your gut.
Through microbiome testing, we can determine the bacteria that are taking over your system. That way, we can let you know which foods to avoid. Essentially, we can help you starve out the bad bacteria.
Then, we provide you with a database of powerful foods that will foster the growth of good bacteria you are currently lacking. We use the highest quality scientific sources to provide you with examples of food you should eat. Our database makes integrating these suggestions even easier by providing hundreds of prebiotic-rich recipes.
Chronic disease begins with diet. So does consistent wellness. Over the recent years, many available clinical studies are pointing to gut-microbiota-directed foods. We combine the results of these studies and your unique DNA to help tailor your wellness plan!
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