Whenever we talk about gut health and foods to promote a healthy digestive system, we often think about probiotics — live cultures that can improve overall digestion and bowel function — but we never really talk about prebiotics.
So, what are prebiotics?
According to the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, prebiotic foods are the various foods in our diet that have the potential to "stimulate the growth and balance of healthy bacteria in the colon." The non-digestible fibers found in these foods are fermented in the colon into short-chain fatty acids that then provide energy for the cells lining the walls throughout the gut.
Prebiotics are a key element in good gut health, and it wouldn't be a bad idea to find ways to incorporate more prebiotic foods in your diet. Though it might seem like a difficult task, adding more prebiotic foods into your diet is a little easier than you might think.
Let's take a look at some of the best prebiotic foods that you probably have in your kitchen already.
Garlic is known for its robust and pungent flavor, but did you know that in addition to being quite tasty, it also has many health benefits. The long list of potential health benefits include: the prevention of gastrointestinal diseases, promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut while preventing disease-promoting bacteria from growing, and serving as an anticancer.
The good thing about garlic is that you probably already have a head or two of the stuff in your kitchen right now. It can essentially be cooked into every type of cuisine, used at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and can even be used to make your own special olive oil.
In addition to being delicious and versatile, garlic boasts great nutritional properties:
Per 3 cloves
Next on our list, is the onion - which, similar to garlic, is probably already tucked away in your kitchen cabinet just waiting to be used for something. If you already have one (or a whole bag; no shame), you might as well put them to use.
The chemical properties of onions can help break down fat and boost immunities by increasing the production of nitric oxide in cells.
Whether you slice, dice, or chop onions, it's quite easy to incorporate the vegetable into just about any recipe. Onions go well in salads, soups, and countless other dishes.
Onions boast great nutritional properties:
Per 1 cup (chopped)
While not as versatile as garlic or onions, asparagus still makes for a great addition to our list of great prebiotics. Asparagus can have anticancer effects, antioxidant effects, and can help with gut health.
Asparagus boasts great nutritional properties:
Per 1 cup
Bananas are one of the most popular sources of potassium and fiber in the fruit and vegetable category and that's perhaps due to their taste and portability. You can eat bananas just about anywhere and everywhere. Whether you are eating one on the morning commute, sliced in a fruit salad, or as a frozen treat, the versatility of this sweet and nutrient-rich fruit make it an ideal source of prebiotic goodness.
It won't take you long to figure out how to incorporate bananas into your diet, as long as you like the yellow fruit. And once you find your ideal method, you will soon reap the benefits with these nutritional properties:
Per 1 medium banana
Apples are tasty, easy to eat, and full of pectin, a chemical with prebiotic benefits that increase butyrate, a fatty acid that feeds gut bacteria while decreasing the number of bad bacteria at the same time.
Whether you are eating them raw, baking, grilling, or adding them to a smoothie or juice, apples are a solid choice for getting more prebiotics into your diet.
Here are just a few of the fruit's great nutritional properties:
Per 1 medium apple
Prebiotic foods can be more than just than fruits and vegetables, in fact, foods like grains also fall into this category. One of the most beneficial grains out there is whole oats, which contain large amounts of beta-glucan fiber, which is linked to healthy gut bacteria and lower cholesterol.
Not only are whole oats great for your digestive health, but they also help slow down digestion and help control your appetite.
Whole oats don't have to be boring just because they're healthy. Here is a collection of great overnight recipes that will forever change the way you view oatmeal.
And to really drive home the idea of whole oats being healthy, here's a breakdown of some of the key nutritional properties:
Per 1 cup
You will often see flaxseeds being added to smoothies and juices and there's a good reason for that: even small amounts of flaxseeds pack quite a punch of fiber.
Flaxseeds can help promote healthy gut bacteria, help make you more regular, and even reduce the amount of fat you digest and absorb. That's not even mentioning flaxseeds potential for having anti-cancer and antioxidant qualities.
Flaxseeds even boast some pretty phenomenal nutritional properties:
Per 1 tablespoon (whole)
Seaweed, yes seaweed, is actually quite the heavy hitter in the prebiotics category. Though it is not eaten all that often outside of when on sushi or in a select few Asian soups, seaweed is quite beneficial for your health and maybe should be eaten more often.
There aren't any studies on the effects of seaweed on humans, but studies on animals have shown that seaweed may help enhance the growth of good bacteria in the gut and even reduce the risk of color cancer.
Once you get past the concept of eating seaweed, it actually has some great nutritional properties:
Per 1 cup
Prebiotic foods provide our bodies with much-needed fiber, which has innumerable health benefits that can help fight off cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, make you more regular, and help keep your appetite in check.
These types of foods can also help the body by improving calcium absorption, changing how the body handles the processing of carbohydrates, and promotes gut health.
And most of all, prebiotics are easy to take. There's no need for fancy and expensive supplements because you can get an ample supply from things like bananas, apples, onions, and even seaweed.
So do your body right and make sure to include as many prebiotic foods in your diet as possible. You (and your gut) will be happy as happy can be.