Your diet definitely influences your gut microbiome, both prebiotics and probiotics are essential for a healthy gut and its functions.
Prebiotics – the gut fertilizers
These are special plant fibers which are the nondigestible part of foods. They will pass through your small intestine and reach your colon, where they are fermented by the gut microflora. This fermentation feeds the friendly bacteria in your gut, helping to produce essential nutrients, including short-chain fatty acids such as butyrate, acetate, and propionate, which nourish your digestive system.
Foods rich in prebiotics:
- Acacia gum (or gum Arabic) – the best way to use this is to buy acacia powder and mix it with water or add it into a smoothie or shake. I like to use Heather’s Acacia Senegal Tummy Fiber.
- Chicory root – the roasted root is often used as a coffee alternative. My favorite flavor is teeccino’s Dandelion Caramel Nut, although there are a multitude of other flavors (Java, French roast, Mocha, hazelnut, etc.). You can also use the root itself in cooking.
- Dandelion Greens – an excellent source for fiber, and antioxidants as well. Add them to a salad or your green juices and smoothies.
- Garlic – this has the added benefit of being a potent antimicrobial. It has been shown to reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer. It is best eaten raw, if you are going to cook with it, crush or chop it first and let it sit for 10 minutes to activate the enzyme responsible for it’s amazing health benefits.
- Onions – like other members of the allium family (garlic, chives, leeks, shallots, scallions) it is rich in sulfur containing compounds which have anticancer properties. It is also rich in antioxidants, and beneficial for helping blood sugars and cardiovascular health.
- Leeks – these are in the same family as garlic and onions. It is a rich source of kaempferol, a flavonoid, that helps augment the body’s antioxidant defense against free radicals giving it anti-cancer properties. The highest concentration of the flavonoids in leeks is in the bulb and lower stalk.
- Asparagus – one of my favorite vegetables. It is rich in antioxidants, and vitamins such as folate (B 9) and K.
- Jerusalem artichoke – this is a species of sunflower with an edible root loaded with nutrients and health benefits. It is a rich source of potassium and iron. You can use it in salads like water chestnuts, or cook it like a potato (boiled, mashed, roasted, sautéed).
- Apples – the famous adage “an apple a day” is nothing to scoff at. Apples are rich in antioxidants, polyphenols, and pectin which will improve your digestion, boost your metabolism, decrease LDL cholesterol, and may impact your risk of cancer.
- Jicama root – It is rich in antioxidants, such as vitamin C. It can be eaten plain with a dip or incorporated into dishes like salads and stir-fries.
- Bananas – slightly unripe bananas have powerful prebiotic effects. They are high in other vitamins and minerals.
Probiotics contain live organisms, usually specific strains of bacteria that directly add to the population of healthy microbes in your gut. This is important as the gut microbes help digest food, destroy disease-causing cells, and produce vitamins.
Foods rich in probiotics:
- Active culture yogurt – read your label as many yogurts – both Greek and regular – are loaded with added sugar, artificial sweeteners, and artificial flavors. For people sensitive to dairy, try coconut or almond yogurt.
- Kefir – the name is derived from the Turkish word keyif which means “feeling good” after consumption. It is a fermented dairy product very similar to yogurt. It is a unique combination of kefir grains (a combination of yeast and bacteria) and goat’s milk that is high in lactobacilli and bifidobacterial. It is rich in antioxidants as well. For those sensitive to dairy or lactose intolerant try coconut kefir, which is equally beneficial.
- Kombucha Tea – this is fermented black or green tea which has been around for centuries. Fizzy and often served cold, it is believed to help increase energy, and may even help you lose weight.
- Tempah – many people use this as a substitute for meat. It is made from fermented soybeans and is a complete protein (it has all the amino acids). It is also a great source of vitamin B12. You can cook it, or use crumbled over salads.
- Kimchi – a traditional Korean dish, it is a mixture of fermented vegetables and seasonings. Common ingredients included cabbage, brine, radish, and spices such as ginger and chili pepper. It is also a great source of calcium, iron, beta carotene, and vitamins A, C, B1, and B2.
- Sauerkraut – a German word meaning “sour cabbage.” It is also a source of choline which is needed for proper transmission of nerve impulses in the brain and throughout the central nervous system.
- Pickles – for many, this may be the gateway to trying other more exotic fermented foods.
- Pickled fruits and vegetables – whether you do this yourself of buy it, keep in mind that the probiotic benefits are only present in unpasteurized foods pickled in brine, not vinegar.
- Cultured condiments – it is possible to create lacto-fermented mayonnaise, horseradish, hot sauce, relish, salsa guacamole, salad dressing, and fruit chutney. Sour cream, while technically a fermented dairy product, tends to lose its probiotic power during processing. Some manufacturers, however, add live cultures at the end of the process; look for these brands.
- Fermented meat, fish, and eggs – often seen in many traditional fares, examples included corned beef, pickled sardines, and fermented hard boiled eggs.