One of the best ways to maintain the health of your gastrointestinal system is through a healthy diet. While taking a good probiotic supplement is a major part of supporting your gut microbiome, the foods you eat are also important. Those healthy bacteria need to eat too, and the best way to ‘feed’ them is with prebiotic foods.
Like probiotics, prebiotics are vital to good health and should be consumed as part of your regular diet. However, unlike probiotics, prebiotics don’t contain any bacteria.
Instead, they’re a type of fiber that can’t be broken down by the digestive system. A major component of this fiber is oligosaccharides. These oligosaccharides pass through the upper part of the gastrointestinal tract undigested, and are then moved through to the small intestine. They then pass down to the colon and are fermented by your gut microflora.
Simply put, prebiotics are a kind of ‘food’ for your healthy gut bacteria. Studies show that prebiotics are particularly beneficial to digestive health.
Prebiotic carbohydrates are mostly made up of fructans and galactans, which are both fermented by anaerobic bacteria in your large intestine.
Foods that are high in fructans include onions, leeks, shallots, garlic, cabbage, broccoli, pistachio, oats, Jerusalem artichoke (pictured above), chicory root, and asparagus. You may recognize a type of fructan named inulin, which is often added to foods.
Foods that are high in galactans include beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chickpeas, lentils, and soy-based products.
Here are the top 10 prebiotic foods that you need to be eating regularly!
Onions are a rich source of inulin, one of the most important forms of prebiotic. Research shows that inulin can help stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut, which in turn can improve your digestion, immune function and overall health. (1)
Raw and cooked onions are both excellent sources of prebiotics. What many people don’t know is that they’re also packed with B vitamins, including folate (B9) and pyridoxine (B6). Onions are also a good source of potassium, and can also help with iron absorption.
You can simply sauté them in a good-quality oil or in vegetable broth. Add them to a curry or your favorite guacamole recipe. You can even try roasting slices of onions on a baking sheet. Baked onions make a delicious topping for meats or seafood. You can also make a fantastic ‘low-carb’ alternative to mashed potatoes by blending onions with steamed broccoli or cauliflower and almond or coconut milk.
Leeks come from the same family as onions and garlic, and offer similar health benefits. They have a similar taste to onions, but milder. The edible parts of a leek are the white section above the roots and stem base, and the light green parts. Leeks are usually harvested in autumn.
Leeks are a fantastic source of prebiotics, containing up to 16% inulin fiber. This high fiber content means leeks are an excellent addition to your Candida diet, maintaining healthy digestion while encouraging the growth of healthy gut bacteria. (2)
Another benefit of leeks is that they are high in flavonoids, a type of antioxidant. Flavonoids can help your body fight off free radicals and protect you from the damages of oxidative stress. Leeks also harbor a significant amount of vitamin K, which is invaluable for heart and bone health!
Leeks are great added to soups, stir-fries, stews and other hearty meals. You can also thinly slice leeks and sauté them quickly to create a delicious side dish, or even add them raw to salads.
A delicious spring vegetable, asparagus is a great way to bump up your healthy gut bacteria. It contains around 2-3 grams of inulin per 100-gram serving. As an added bonus, some research has suggested that a certain protein within asparagus may also help to ward off some forms of cancer. (3)
When it comes to gut health, asparagus has another benefit: fiber AND antioxidants. In fact, the combination of antioxidant activity and fiber in asparagus can go a long way in downregulating inflammatory processes in the body. Fiber is also highly beneficial to improving bowel transit time, which can help with sluggish digestion.
Asparagus is a delicious way to add texture and flavor to stir-fries, salads, quiches, and almost any savory dish! The rich flavor of asparagus is accentuated even more when roasted. Just place the washed spears on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and allow to bake.
4. Chicory Root
Chicory is actually a plant of the dandelion family. It usually has bright blue flowers and is harvested for its leaves, buds and roots. It’s the roots that can be baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute or as a type of prebiotic supplement.
Chicory root contains up to 20 percent inulin, which makes it a very good source of prebiotic fiber. For this reason, chicory root extract may be used as both a dietary supplement and as a food additive. The dried root can be mixed with water to create a mucilaginous gel.
The inulin content of chicory is often used as a sweetener in various foods, because its sweetening power is around 10% that of sucrose.
The strong taste of ground chicory is similar to coffee, so it makes for an interesting caffeine-free alternative to coffee while eating the Candida diet foods to eat.
It’s also been found that dietary chicory can help to kill internal parasites in animals, with studies showing that feeding farm animals chicory can reduce worm infestations.
5. Dandelion Greens
Dandelion greens have long been used in traditional folk medicine for their high mineral content and also their use in detoxification and relieving indigestion.
Just as importantly, dandelion greens are rich in inulin. Adding these green leaves to your salads and stir-fries can help to boost your gut’s production of healthy bacteria, particularly forms of bifidobacteria.
Dandelions grow all over the world in all seasons, so they’re not hard to find! There are lots of ways to prepare them. A good example is sautéing them with onions. Simply steam the greens until soft, sauté the onions, and then add the greens.
6. Jerusalem Artichoke
The Jerusalem artichoke (pictured above) isn’t actually an artichoke at all! It’s named for its flavor, which is similar to that of an artichoke heart. Jerusalem artichoke actually looks similar to ginger, and is also known as sunroot or sunchoke.
When eaten raw, the Jerusalem artichoke is rich in not only prebiotic fiber but other nutrients. It’s a good source of iron and potassium, and its low glycemic index makes it an excellent dietary choice for those with diabetes.
You can add Jerusalem artichoke to salads or cook it by boiling, sautéing or roasting. The texture is similar to that of a potato. It has a rich, nutty flavor and is eaten like a potato in many parts of Europe and the Mediterranean. Simply add salt and olive oil to taste!
Garlic contains around 17 percent prebiotic fiber. It also harbors potent antifungal, antiparasitic and anti-inflammatory properties. Some studies have shown that garlic is effective at reducing Candida yeast and other fungal species, as well as inhibiting the growth of unfriendly bacteria. It’s also a good source of manganese, Vitamin B6, Vitamin C, and selenium. (4)
Garlic has a very strong flavor when eaten raw, but it’s best not to cook it for any longer than five minutes as cooking will destroy its medicinal properties. Be sure to eat garlic with a healthy fat such as olive oil, as this will help protect your gut from its powerful juices. Avoid eating more than five cloves of garlic daily because too much can upset your stomach and cause digestive symptoms.
8. Konjac Root
Konjac root is the starchy part of the konjac plant. It’s also known as a corm. Konjac root is a rich source of a type of prebiotic dietary fiber named glucomannan, which is often used as a dietary supplement and also to make jellies or high-fiber flour.
As a supplement, glucomannan has been found to be particularly beneficial for healthy bowel function. Studies have shown it can improve bowel transit time and prevent constipation. This is due to the easy digestible soluble dietary fiber, which helps to move food through the intestines.
Konjac dietary supplements are available in the form of capsules or powder, and can be found in most health stores. Dosage depends on age and overall health. Konjac powder may also be used as an alternative to seafood in vegan products.
9. Burdock Root
Burdock root is consumed widely across Asia and Europe, and has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. It’s usually eaten fresh or cooked, and young Burdock leaves can added to meals like most leafy vegetables.
Burdock root contains a good amount of prebiotic inulin, which makes it yet another excellent dietary choice for improving digestion and lowering blood sugar levels. Fresh burdock root is often used throughout Europe as a natural health aid for those with diabetes.
To use fresh burdock root, simply cook and add to stir-fries or stews. It can also be peeled, sliced and eaten raw. Pickled burdock root is also delicious and a great way to add fermented goodness to your diet.
Also known as linseed, flaxseeds are the tiny brown seeds of the flax plant, which grows in cooler parts of the world.
Flaxseeds provide a huge amount of healthy prebiotic fiber – in fact; they’re around 30 percent dietary fiber!
More importantly, research has shown that flaxseeds promote the growth of probiotic bacteria almost as well as probiotics themselves.
One study found that women who added flaxseed to their daily diet for six weeks showed a significant increase of probiotic bacteria in their intestines. It was also found that the flaxseeds boosted the populations of 33 genetically different probiotic species and reduced 8 species of unhealthy bacteria. In contrast, the group taking only probiotic supplements showed no major changes in their gut bacteria. (5)
There are two types of flaxseed used for dietary purposes: brown or yellow (also known as golden linseeds).
As well as their rich fiber content, flaxseed is valuable sources of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids. Flaxseed is packed with protein, B vitamins, and dietary minerals. Just 2 teaspoons (10g) of flaxseed contains 1g of soluble fiber and 3g of insoluble fiber.
Flaxseeds can be purchased whole or ground, and are usually very affordable. They’re easy to add to smoothies, baked goods, breads and cereals.
Enjoy Prebiotic Foods and Enjoy A Healthy Gut!
These foods are all great choices for adding more prebiotic foods to your diet. What’s more, they are all gut-healthy and contain no added or refined sugars.
Prebiotic foods are almost always a better choice than prebiotic supplements. Taking large amounts of prebiotics in a single dose, such as you might find in a prebiotic supplement, can feed pathogenic bacteria as well as the more beneficial kinds. Eating prebiotic foods, combined with a high-quality probiotic supplement, is a much safer and more sustainable choice.
Research suggests that a good daily dosage of dietary prebiotics is around 10g a day. Eating less than that is unlikely to stimulate the growth of the healthy bacteria you need in your gut. Unfortunately, most people are only getting around 1-4g of prebiotics a day from their normal diet.
It’s easy to add a few of the above prebiotic foods to your normal meals each day. Most are available at different times of the year, so you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping your meals interesting!
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