Probiotics have been recognized as nature’s answer to gut health for at least the last decade. These living microorganisms, often referred to as good bacteria, are known for their ability to enhance both the digestive process and the immune system, as well as prevent the growth of less friendly bacteria. There are more than 20 species of probiotics. Some of the most common include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Recently, attention has turned to a symbiotic counterpart of probiotics called prebiotics.
Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that feed the good bacteria present in our colon. Examples of prebiotics include inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides.
So, how do the two work together?
Probiotics replenish, and prebiotics nourish friendly bacteria. Basically, your body needs both in order to have a balanced and healthy gut.
First, Feed Your Body Probiotics
Probiotics are important for a healthy gastrointestinal system and to prevent inflammatory gut illnesses, infections caused by yeast and other unfriendly flora, tooth decay and even respiratory infections. Supplements are beneficial, especially if you take antibiotics, but you can also increase your friendly bacteria by upping your intake of the following foods:
- Yogurt – Raw yogurt contains the highest amounts of probiotics, but it may be hard to find. If you use commercial yogurts, look for those containing live and active cultures.
- Cultured dairy products – Some options with the highest probiotic concentrations include Kefir, buttermilk and cottage cheese.
Then, Feed Your Probiotics with Prebiotics
Maintaining a thriving colony of probiotic cultures in the colon is important to your overall health, and prebiotics are the key to keeping your good bacteria healthy and happy.
Like probiotics, prebiotics can be obtained through supplementation or by adding or increasing certain foods in your diet. Below are some foods that contain prebiotics and an idea of how much of each you’ll need to consume to get a full day’s serving of prebiotics.
8 Great Foods Containing Prebiotics
- Raw Chicory Root – Often used as a coffee substitute, raw chicory root tops the list of prebiotic-rich foods at almost 65% fiber by weight. A mere 1/3 ounce is enough to fulfill a full day’s requirement.
- Raw Jerusalem Artichoke – Second on the list, this flowering plant’s root comes in at 31.5% fiber by weight, requiring a 3/4-ounce serving to supply the daily need.
- Raw Dandelion Greens – This common yard weed is actually a nutritious plant that includes generous amounts of Vitamins K and A as well as calcium and iron. At 24.3% fiber by weight, it requires only a one ounce serving per day to meet the full requirement.
- Raw Garlic – In addition to garlic’s many other known health benefits, it packs 17.5% fiber by weight and provides a full daily serving with just 1.2 ounces.
- Raw Leeks – This close relative to the onion contains 11.7% fiber by weight and contains a full day’s serving in about 1.8 ounces.
- Onions – Onions provide prebiotic benefits in both their raw and cooked states. While the raw plant offers a slight advantage at 8.6% fiber by weight with a 2.5-ounce daily requirement, their cooked counterpart comes in close with a 5% fiber by weight and daily requirement of about four ounces.
- Wheat Bran and Flour – Wheat is also beneficial in more than one form. Wheat bran offers a slight advantage with 5% fiber by weight and a daily requirement of four ounces, but baked wheat flour is very close at 4.8% fiber by weight and a four-ounce per day requirement as well.
- Raw Bananas – A handy, take-anywhere treat is also a great source of potassium. At 1% fiber by weight and a daily requirement of 1.3 pounds, it has prebiotic benefits but might not be the best source if you want to get your full day’s requirement in one place.
Because it can be hard to get adequate amounts of prebiotics strictly from food, you may want to add a supplement to make sure you’re taking advantage of all the benefits they offer. When choosing a supplement, it’s important to find one that is a full spectrum prebiotic — meaning it contains both inulin and oligofructose.
Oligofructose (FOS) is a small molecule that is fermented quickly as it enters the colon on the right side and is then consumed by the bacteria in that part of the colon. Inulin is a larger molecule that takes more time to ferment, so it travels farther into the colon and is utilized on the left side. An oligofructose-enriched inulin supplement provides maximum benefit as it can be employed throughout the entire colon.
Maintaining a healthy balance in your gastrointestinal tract is a smart move that will benefit your whole body. Increasing your intake of probiotics and prebiotics — whether through food or with added supplementation — will get you on your way to a happier gut and a healthier lifestyle.
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