The friendly bacteria living in your gut help to digest your food, synthesize nutrients, regulate your immune system, keep bad bacteria under control and (if you have the right ones) ensure that you maintain a healthy weight. Prebiotic foods contain fiber that nourishes your gut flora and allows good bacteria to thrive.
The three most common types of prebiotic fiber are inulin, FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), and GOS (galacto-oligosaccharides). By including all three in your diet, you can help to sustain a variety of friendly bacteria strains in your gut.
Here are eight widely available prebiotic foods that can help to boost your overall health.
Onions are cheap and incredibly versatile, so it’s easy to include them in your daily diet. In addition to being a good source of inulin and FOS, they are rich in organosulfur compounds which can help protect against cancer.
They also contain the flavonoid quercetin which can help to reduce high blood pressure and lower cholesterol. Onions feature in numerous cuisines and can be added to most savory dishes. Eat raw red onions in salads and on burgers.
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Cabbage is inexpensive, low-calorie and rich in GOS prebiotics. It has more vitamin C than oranges; one cup of shredded cabbage contains 54% of your recommended daily requirement. It’s also a good source of Vitamin K, Folate, Vitamin B6 and Manganese.
Add cabbage to soups, stews or stir-fries or eat it raw in salads and coleslaw. If you use cabbage to make traditional, fermented sauerkraut you’ll get both prebiotics and probiotics in every serving.
Don’t just mow down the dandelions growing in your lawn. Harvest the leaves and use them like spinach. Dandelions are a good source of the prebiotics inulin and FOS as well as vital nutrients including vitamin K, vitamin A, iron and calcium.
The leaves have a somewhat bitter flavor so are best eaten along with other ingredients. Add raw dandelion greens to salads or sandwiches or cook them in soups or casserole dishes.
Bananas, pre-packaged in their skins, are a natural convenience food. They are a good source of potassium, which can help to lower blood pressure and protect against stroke. While ripe bananas contain inulin, green bananas contain another prebiotic called resistant starch.
This type of starch helps protect the good bacteria in probiotic foods from stomach acid so that more of it can colonize the gut. Try green bananas in a yogurt smoothie to give your microbiome a boost.
Bran is the course outer layer of cereal grains such as wheat, oats and rice. It is a good source of prebiotic fiber and contains protein, B vitamins and a variety of minerals. Whole grain bread and cereals and brown rice naturally include bran, but bran that has been removed from refined grain is also sold as a food supplement.
Add bran to muffin, pancake or quick-bread batter or stir it into oatmeal or yogurt. Alternatively, buy a bran breakfast cereal. Studies have shown that eating a large bowl of oat bran cereal daily lowers high cholesterol.
The pasteurization process kills off both good and bad bacteria, which is why only unpasteurized natural yogurt is considered a probiotic. However, in the case of unfermented milk, pasteurization can help boost your gut flora.
When milk is heated to high temperatures, a probiotic called lactulose is produced. This compound promotes the growth of friendly bifidobacteria which help maintain digestive health. Pour milk over bran cereal for a double dose of prebiotics.
Sweet, tender asparagus is a good source of inulin as well as folate, a B vitamin that may help prevent age-related cognitive impairment. Asparagus is also rich in cancer-fighting glutathione, often dubbed ‘the mother of all antioxidants’.
This versatile vegetable is a great accompaniment to many types of meat and fish. Boiling asparagus will deplete the nutrients, so grill, roast or stir-fry it instead. Asparagus tends to be too tough to eat raw, but some nutritionists recommend blending the stalks into green smoothies.
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Leeks are a member of the allium family and, like their cousin the onion, are a good source of inulin and organosulfur antioxidants. A one cup serving contains 52% of your recommended daily requirement for vitamin K, which is needed for wound healing and maintaining healthy bones.
Leeks are just as versatile as onions with a sweeter flavor. Use them in soups, stews or casseroles or add them to omelets or mashed potatoes. Chopped leeks can also be served raw in salads.
If you think your diet isn’t right for your strength-training program, it may be a good idea to see a nutritionist. You should always read the label before using any supplement, and be aware of how they interact with each other. Always stop using them straight away and consult your health professional if you have any concerns.