Here are the prebiotic foods you should eat to improve your gut health and the best ways to cook them.
You’ve likely heard of probiotics, bacteria that provide us with health benefits when we consume them. It is important to eat foods rich in probiotics, but we must also not forget to include foods rich in prebiotics in our diet.
Prebiotics are substances found in certain foods that selectively feed the good gut bacteria so they can thrive and keep us healthy. Incorporating a variety of prebiotics into your diet helps prevent bad bacteria from taking hold and encourages good bacteria to produce anti-inflammatory compounds, called short-chain fatty acids, which nourish cells in the body’s lining, the colon. Most prebiotics are types of fiber, and a few are phytochemicals, that is, the bioactive compounds found in plants. If our gut microbiome was a garden, prebiotics would be its fertilizer. Fortunately, there are plenty of prebiotic-rich foods that will suit a variety of nutritional needs and taste preferences. With a little thought and planning, you can easily incorporate prebiotic-rich foods into every meal to support the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
Here are five prebiotic-rich foods to add to your diet right now.
1. Cooking with garlic, onions, shallots and shallots
All vegetables in the allium family, such as garlic, onions, leeks, leeks, and leeks, contain fructan, a type of prebiotic fiber. Humans don’t have the enzymes needed to break down fructans, so they end up in the colon, where the good microbes use them as food and break them down through fermentation. As a byproduct, short-chain fatty acids are produced, compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation, promote a healthy weight and improve insulin sensitivity, according to research published in March 2020 in the journal Nutrients. In addition, short-chain fatty acids make the intestinal environment more acidic, which increases mineral absorption. By feeding our good gut microbiome and increasing the production of short-chain fatty acids, fructans are thought to increase our absorption of calcium and improve bone density, according to research published in February 2021 in the International Journal of Vitamin and Nutrition Research.
Alliums also stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial gut bacteria, such as Lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, while reducing the growth and activity of harmful bacteria, as shown in a study published in August 2021 in the journal Foods. These changes in the gut microbiome can help prevent chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and obesity.
To add more allium to your meals and reap the benefits of fructans:
Cooked with a large amount of garlic and fried onions.
Add shallots to soups and stews.
Sprinkle salads and fried dishes with onion slices.
Season with garlic and onion powder (when choosing garlic or onion powder, look for brands that contain only dried garlic or onions to get the full benefits and avoid consuming unnecessary additives).
2. Mix unripe bananas into smoothies
While it may seem odd to prefer unripe bananas over ripe ones for your morning smoothie, unripe bananas actually contain higher prebiotic fiber than ripe bananas, according to a 2021 study published in the journal PLoS One. Unripe bananas contain resistant starch, a type of starch that resists digestion in the upper part of the digestive tract and then makes its way to the colon, where it acts as a prebiotic to selectively feed the good gut microbes. When a banana ripens, this resistant starch turns into simple sugars, which don’t have the same effects as a prebiotic. Consuming resistant starch may also aid in weight management and obesity prevention due to its positive effect on the gut microbiome, as well as its ability to promote satiety and stabilize blood sugar, according to research published in June 2019 in the journal Nutrients.
To start your day with a healthy dose of prebiotics, try making a delicious morning smoothie by blending a lightly unripe banana with plain Greek yogurt, chia seeds, cocoa powder each, a date for sweetness, and enough unsweetened almond milk to mix in. However, it should be noted that if you are allergic to latex, you may need to avoid eating less ripe bananas, which contain latex-like proteins and can cause an allergic reaction in sensitive individuals.
3. Add chia seeds and flaxseeds to yogurt, oatmeal, and smoothies.
Chia seeds and flax seeds are known for their nutritional density, but they are also excellent sources of prebiotics. Research published in June 2019 in the journal Nutrients shows that eating chia seeds is linked to reduced inflammatory markers in people with type 2 diabetes, and the prebiotic fiber content likely plays a role.
Meanwhile, flaxseeds may reduce the risk of some cancers, including breast cancer, according to a review published in May 2019 in the journal Nutrients. The study authors attribute this phenomenon to the lignan content of flaxseeds. The lignans, a vital substance, are fermented by the good gut microbes and, through the fermentation process, are converted into compounds linked to both reduced breast cancer risk and reduced cancer mortality.
Chia seeds and flaxseeds can add a mild nutty flavor to foods. To complement this taste, sprinkle them on fruits like berries on yogurt or oatmeal, or mix them with bananas for a smoothie. In addition, chia seeds can change the texture of food due to their high content of soluble fiber, which forms a sticky gel when exposed to moisture. You can take advantage of this gelling property by using it to thicken oat flakes, making them more plump. Chia seeds are added to yogurt, and they form a consistency similar to that of milky rice. Just add the flavor of your choice, like cinnamon, vanilla extract, and a drizzle of honey, for a delicious chia seed pudding.
4. Replace meat with beans and legumes several times a week
Beans and legumes like chickpeas, black beans, and lentils are not only great plant proteins, they are also rich sources of a type of vital fiber called galactooligosaccharides (GOS). According to research published in March 2021 in the journal Biomolecules, this specific type of prebiotic fiber increases beneficial bacteria in the gut, which has been studied for its ability to improve blood lipid profiles, as described in research published in 2019 in the journal Vascular Brasileiro. In addition, a clinical trial published in January 2022 in the journal Nutrients showed that GOS can improve constipation in adults, likely due to an increase in bifidobacteria in the intestine.
Incorporating a few plant-based meals containing beans and legumes into your weekly cycle can do wonders for your health. In fact, a study of more than 40,000 American men, published in 2020 in the British Medical Journal, showed that replacing meat with plant-based proteins, such as beans and legumes rich in prebiotics, reduced the risk of coronary artery disease.
Try making chili by incorporating several types of beans, try black bean tacos, use lentils in a bolognese sauce, or make baked falafel with chickpeas. You can also boost the prebiotic content of your favorite recipes by replacing some or all of the meat with an equal amount of beans and legumes.
5. Satisfy your sugar craving with dark chocolate
As if we needed another reason to eat chocolate, cocoa contains polyphenols, which are natural antioxidant compounds that are not poorly digested by our bodies but are fermented by our good gut microbes. Research published in June 2020 in the journal Nutrients shows that cocoa polyphenols increase beneficial gut bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria while reducing harmful bacteria such as Clostridium perfringens. These changes in the gut microbiome are associated with decreased inflammation and improved immune function. However, not all types of chocolate are created equal. The higher the percentage of cocoa in chocolate, the stronger its bioactive effect. To support a healthy gut microbiome, it’s best to choose a dark chocolate bar that contains at least 70% cocoa.
* Presse Santé strives to impart medical knowledge in a language accessible to all. In no way can the information provided replace medical advice.
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