Photo: Variety of prebiotic foods

by Sabra Leomo, RD

Probiotics receive a lot of attention and buzz for their role in promoting healthy digestion and supporting the immune system. It is likely that you already consume foods rich in probiotics or take supplements that contain probiotics to receive the health benefits. But did you ever take a moment to think about creating an optimal environment for the live cultures, also known as good bacteria, so that they can flourish in your gut and provide optimal benefits? Diets that are high in sugar and unhealthy fats can create a less than optimal environment in your gut for probiotics to function properly. PREbiotics don’t receive as much attention as PRObiotics but are an important part of the gut health team!

Unlike probiotics, prebiotics are not living organisms. Prebiotics are soluble fermentable fibers that basically feed the probiotics in your gut. Think of prebiotics as fuel for probiotics that help the good bacteria flourish in your gut. In addition to improving gut health, prebiotics may also potentially increase calcium absorption which could benefit bone health.

Incorporating good sources of dietary fiber in your diet has many benefits but not all sources of dietary fiber are prebiotics. Luckily it is easy to incorporate prebiotic fiber into your diet because they are naturally found in many plant-based foods. Here are a few foods that naturally contain prebiotics:

  • Chicory root- Chicory coffee substitutes may be the most familiar form or chicory. However, coffee contains very low levels of inulin, the beneficial prebiotic fiber contained in chicory. Chicory is naturally bitter so it is often incorporated into foods like cereals or granola bars. If you make your own kimchi or sauerkraut consider adding some chicory root to the recipe.
  • Raw Jerusalem artichoke - slice and add to salads
  • Onion - raw or cooked
  • Garlic - raw or cooked
  • Leeks - raw or lightly cooked
  • Asparagus - lightly steam or sauté asparagus if you don’t enjoy eating it raw
  • Green or under ripe banana
  • Jicama - sliced jicama is delightfully crunchy and can be used in salads, coleslaw, to scoop dips or sprinkled with chili powder, lime juice, and a dash of salt (optional)
  • Dandelion greens - balance the bitterness of dandelion greens by adding something sweet to your salad like yam or Okinawan sweet potato, apple or sautéed sweet yellow onions. You can also mix dandelion greens with other salad greens for a milder flavor.
  • Barley - use in soups, as hot breakfast cereal, or add cold cooked barely to salads
  • Oats – raw, in overnight oats, or cooked breakfast cereal

When adding in any source of fiber, go slowly and allow your body to adjust and minimize any discomfort such as gas and bloating. Also, be sure to drink enough water so that the fiber has enough fluid to absorb and work properly.

Your local Down to Earth store has you covered when it comes to amazing food sources of probiotics such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and tempeh in addition to probiotic supplements.

If you’ve got the guts, we challenge you to consume an overall healthy diet that includes sources of prebiotic fiber to fuel sources of probiotics. Maintaining optimal gut health is an important cornerstone to overall health.