In our last blog post we discussed the important roles of the microbiome and how certain food additives can harm your beneficial bacteria, so in this post we wanted to provide ways in which you can nourish and support your microbiome with prebiotic-rich foods.
So what are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a type of fiber found in certain plant foods that can be fermented by your gut microbes (i.e. probiotics) which allows them to grow and replicate. Essentially, you can think of prebiotics as food for your probiotics.
Primarily known as “oligosaccharides,” prebiotics can come in the form of inulin, fructooligosaccharides, and galactooligosaccharides. There are other categories of prebiotics that also include:
- Beta-glucans (commonly found in mushrooms and seaweeds)
- Resistant starch (potatoes, oats, beans & legumes)
- Pectin (apples, pears, citrus fruits).
While there are a wide variety of plant foods that contain some form of prebiotics, we highlighted some of the richest sources. The key with prebiotic foods is to eat a wide variety and to consume them raw on occasion, as heat exposure will break down the prebiotic fibers.
Raw Allium Vegetables (Garlic, Onion, Leek, Shallots, etc.)
The vegetables in the allium family are great for providing flavor in our meals and are a rich source of sulfur needed for our body to produce a powerful antioxidant called glutathione. They are also incredible sources of prebiotic fiber, but they must be consumed raw to get the full benefit. Try mashing raw garlic and mixing it into salad dressing and you can finely chop leeks and onion and mix into a salad or on top of any other dish!
Jícama is a Mexican tuber that also goes by the name Mexican yam bean or Mexican turnip. It has a wonderfully delightful crunch and texture similar to an apple but with a more savory taste that is reminiscent of a potato. It’s a super rich source of prebiotic inulin and is also composed of about 80% water so it’s hydrating while also nourishing the digestive tract. Jícama should be peeled and then can be cut into slices or “sticks” and used to dip in hummus, guacamole, or salsa. You can also dice up jícama and sprinkle on top of salads or mix into slaw with shredded veggies like cabbage and carrots.
Raw Dandelion Greens
Dandelion greens are often sold in health foods stores but some prefer to harvest them from the wild! Raw dandelion greens are a rich source of many vitamins and minerals including Vitamin C, Vitamin K, various B-vitamins, magnesium, and potassium. They are also a great source of prebiotic inulin and they are a natural source of bitter compounds that further support digestion. Try adding raw dandelion greens to a smoothie, salad, or blend up into a delicious dandelion pesto!
Most of us have eaten asparagus before, but eating it raw allows our digestive tract to feast on more of the beneficial prebiotics before cooking degrades them. Asapargus is packed with a wide variety of vitamins such as Vitamins A,C,E,K, and certain B Vitamins, as well as minerals like iron, copper, and calcium. Asparagus is also a natural diuretic so it can be helpful with bloating and water rention. Add finely chopped asparagus to salads or blend a few spears into a smoothie.
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About the Author
Sara Keough, MS, CNS, LDN is a licensed nutritionist in the state of Maryland and is a certified nutrition specialist with the national Board for Certification of Nutrition Specialists.