What are prebiotics?
With growing nutritional awareness, people have become more conscious of what they eat. However, more information can often lead to more confusion.
Read on to find out why most nutritionists advise eating more prebiotic foods and increasing the fiber content of your diet.
Prebiotics are foods that are naturally high in dietary fiber. They travel through your gut without getting digested and provide roughage, which helps in the smooth passage of food and waste. This fiber also acts as a source of nutrition for the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Prebiotic foods contain dietary fibers such as inulin, galacto-oligosaccharides, and fructo-oligosaccharides (fructans).
The gut bacteria or gut microbiota are responsible for many important bodily functions, so eating foods with high prebiotic content can promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut, resulting in many health benefits.
What are the health benefits of prebiotics?
One of the best ways to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria in your gut is to eat prebiotic foods. These foods can significantly change the composition of crucial good bacteria in your gut. This is called the prebiotic effect. The prebiotic effect is important in improving your health in the following ways.
- Defense against infection: Gut bacteria control your immune system by communicating with immune cells and helping your body deal with infections. They also protect against the growth of harmful bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
- Improved brain health: Certain gut bacteria can produce chemicals, such as antidepressant neurotransmitters, that affect the brain. The gastrointestinal tract is connected to the brain through the nervous system. Thus, the gut microbiota can also influence brain health by controlling the messages sent to the brain through these nerves.
- Protect against weight gain: An imbalance in the amount of good and bad bacteria in your gut may result in weight gain. Eating more prebiotic foods can help in maintaining a healthy microbiome and weight loss by increasing quantities of good bacteria.
- Better gut health: The good bacteria in your gut can provide nutrients to the colon cells. They also play a protective role against many diseases such as colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Blood sugar control: The gut bacteria can help in controlling blood sugar levels, thus lowering the risk of diabetes. The level of unhealthy gut bacteria was also found to be increased before the development of type 1 diabetes.
- Enhanced heart health: Beneficial gastrointestinal bacteria can improve good cholesterol levels, whereas bad bacteria can promote heart disease by producing harmful chemicals. These chemicals can block arteries, leading to heart attacks. Thus, maintaining the balance of good bacteria is crucial.
- Improved bone health: The good bacteria in your gut can assist in the absorption of many important minerals such as calcium and magnesium from food. This can improve the bone mineral content of your body, resulting in strong bones.
Which foods are high in prebiotics?
Here are 24 foods that are known to be naturally high in prebiotics.
Apples contain pectin, a soluble fiber that can reduce inflammation, enhance beneficial gut bacteria, block harmful bacteria, and decrease weight gain. Apples can even promote cardiovascular health and lower the risk of respiratory disorders like asthma.
Asparagus, which contains inulin, can help in maintaining insulin and blood glucose levels. It has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and may also play a role in cancer prevention.
Bananas are a rich source of resistant starch, which exhibits prebiotic properties. They also contain vitamins and minerals like potassium.
4. Burdock root
This vegetable is often used in Japanese cooking. It is a good source of fiber and phenolic compounds, which exhibit antioxidant attributes. Burdock root also supports the growth of friendly gut bacteria.
5. Chicory root
Chicory root belongs to the dandelion family. It tastes like coffee but is caffeine-free. It has a protective liver and gut function and can improve digestion, relieve constipation, and control blood sugar levels.
6. Dandelion greens
These are a good source of dietary fiber that can reduce constipation, boost the growth of good bacteria, and support your immune system. Dandelion greens also have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anticancer effects.
Garlic promotes the growth of good bacteria and prevents the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut. It also has lipid-lowering, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties that can protect against diseases like asthma.
8. Jerusalem artichoke (earth apple or sunchoke)
Jerusalem artichoke belongs to the sunflower family and is rich in vitamin B1. It improves your health by helping mineral absorption in the gut, boosting your immune system, lowering cholesterol levels, and protecting against some metabolic disorders.
9. Jicama root
This root vegetable is rich in Vitamin C, which boosts your immune system function. This is a low-calorie, fiber-rich food that improves gut health, decreases blood glucose levels, and enhances insulin sensitivity.
10. Konjac root (elephant yam)
This is a potato-like tuber that grows underground. It reduces constipation as it is rich in viscous fiber. It enhances gut health, lowers cholesterol levels, and promotes weight loss by assisting in carbohydrate metabolism.
Leeks are a low-calorie, nutrient-dense food containing many minerals and vitamins like vitamin K, which is vital for blood clotting. Leeks are a great source of dietary fiber inulin, which promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria and helps in the breakdown of fat.
Onions have antibiotic, antioxidant, and anticancer attributes. They are beneficial for your gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems. Onions can also boost your immune system, promote the growth of good gut bacteria, and assist in lipid breakdown.
Seaweed mainly contains soluble fiber. It’s an excellent source of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and polysaccharides, which boost the immune system and nourish gut cells.
14. Yacon root
This is a fiber-rich vegetable, which has antioxidant properties. It helps in supporting the immune system, enhancing gut bacteria, decreasing constipation, improving mineral absorption, and regulating fat accumulation.
Barley can help in lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels. It is also a good source of fiber and minerals like selenium. It’s beneficial for thyroid function, preventing heart disease, suppressing appetite, improving insulin sensitivity, and boosting your immune system.
They are a great source of fiber and phenolic compounds, which exhibit anticancer and antioxidant properties. Flaxseeds promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and help in smooth bowel movements, regulating fat absorption, and maintaining blood sugar levels.
Oats are high in fiber and starch. This helps in the growth of friendly bacteria, lowering blood sugar and bad cholesterol levels, appetite control, and reducing the risk of cancer.
18. Wheat bran
Wheat bran, which is the outer layer of the wheat grain, contains anticancer and antioxidant properties. It contains a special fiber that helps in the growth of healthy bacteria and decreases digestive issues like stomach ache, gas, bloating, and cramps.
19. Almonds and hazelnuts
Almonds and hazelnuts are rich sources of fiber, good fats, and vitamins like vitamin E and B6. They have antioxidant properties and reduce the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. These nuts can also help in regulating blood sugar levels and lowering cholesterol levels.
These are a great source of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Chickpeas may help in weight management, regulation of blood glucose and insulin levels, and improvement of heart disease markers.
Cocoa beans, which are used to make chocolate, are seeds of the cacao fruit. They contain polyphenols, which have antioxidant and anticancer properties. They promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria, mitigate the growth of bad bacteria, and help in regulating blood sugar levels.
22. Lima beans
Fermented lima beans are a rich source of fiber and minerals. They promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria. Because of their low fat content, they can mitigate the risk of heart disease and reduce cholesterol levels.
23. Mung beans
Mung beans are rich in proteins, dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They also contain bioactive compounds like polysaccharides and polyphenols, which are essential for good health. They boost the immune system, prevent cancer, and protect the liver. Mung beans can help in mitigating high blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels.
24. Pomegranate seeds
Pomegranate seeds are a great source of insoluble fiber and phytochemicals, which have antioxidant, anticancer, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties. They also protect against heart and bone diseases.
How to increase your prebiotic intake
If you’d like to increase the fiber content of your diet, consider adding a diverse range of plant-based foods that are rich in prebiotics.
Avoid artificial sweeteners and opt for naturally sweet prebiotic fruits that promote healthy bacterial growth.
Consider eating more fiber-rich whole grains instead of processed foods to minimize the risk of lifestyle-related diseases.
Choose unsweetened chocolate to make healthy drinks and desserts that enhance your gut health.
An imbalance in the levels of beneficial and harmful gut microbiota can damage your overall health, leading to many issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Therefore, it’s crucial to enhance the growth of good bacteria in your gut by consuming more nutritional dietary fiber.
Including fiber-rich prebiotic foods in your diet is one of the safest and easiest ways to ensure good health.
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