We commonly discuss the benefits of probiotics, which are healthy bacteria that live in our gastrointestinal (GI) tract and found in foods such as yogurt, kombucha, and kefir. We hear less often about their counterpart, prebiotics, which are equally important for our health. Prebiotics are the types of fiber that our healthy gut bacteria consume, producing nutrients that lead to a healthy GI tract.
The following foods are great sources of prebiotics: garlic, onions, asparagus, leeks, oats, bananas, barley, apples, nuts and flaxseed. If you eat a wide variety of prebiotic-containing foods, you can increase both the number and diversity of healthy bacteria in your gut.
It’s important to know that there are unhealthy bacteria living in our guts as well. Unhealthy bacteria will always be present, but if you maintain a healthy lifestyle you can increase the ratio of your good bacteria to your bad bacteria. The total bacteria living in your gut is referred to as your “microbiome.” Unhealthy gut bacteria seem to thrive when our diets are too high in processed foods and too low in foods such as fruits and vegetables.
So how do you know if your gut isn’t healthy? Signs that may indicate an unhealthy gut include gas, bloating, diarrhea, unintentional weight changes, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, eczema, and food intolerances. If your diet is high in sugar, you likely have decreased the amounts of healthy bacteria in your gut. Luckily, there are many ways that we can improve the amount and diversity of healthy gut bacteria.
Here are some things you can do to make your gut happy:
- Sleep! Sleep quality can affect our microbiomes significantly
- Stay hydrated. Improved gut health is one of the many benefits of good hydration.
- Eat a wide variety of prebiotics. As previously mentioned, eating plenty of high-fiber foods will increase the amounts of healthy bacteria in our guts.
- Take your time during meals. This can increase nutrient absorption in your gut.
- Eat fermented foods. You can replenish healthy bacteria in your gut by eating probiotic-containing foods such as yogurt, kombucha, sauerkraut, fresh pickles, kefir, and kimchi.
- Only take antibiotics when necessary. Unfortunately, some of our healthy bacteria are eliminated when we take antibiotics.
- Limit processed foods. Our healthy gut bacteria don’t flourish on foods high in added sugars and unhealthy fats.
There are many ways to reap the benefits of both probiotics and prebiotics. They work together to improve our GI health. Here are some ideas for incorporating more prebiotics and probiotics into your daily life:
- Eat oatmeal with flaxseed and 1 tablespoon of peanut butter for breakfast,
- Have a sweet snack of plain Greek yogurt with low-sugar granola and berries.
- Switch out the afternoon diet soda for a cup of kombucha.
- Make an easy stir-fry for dinner with brown rice, a variety of vegetables, and lots of garlic!
- Whip up a warm cup of fresh hot cocoa! Cocoa is a great source of prebiotics.
- Make a one pan meal with salmon and roasted asparagus.
- Grab a banana and a handful of almonds for a pre-workout snack.
While there are still many things we have yet to learn about our microbiomes, one finding seems to remain consistent: our gut bacteria have a direct impact on how we feel both mentally and physically. Make an appointment with an Avance Care Registered Dietitian to learn more about what you can do to improve your gut health, one small change at a time. Call (919) 237-1337, option 4 to schedule your appointment today. Happy eating!
Bonnie is a registered dietitian at the Durham location. In her free time, she enjoys exploring her home of Raleigh, NC and playing with her new puppy, Nola, or kitty, Wolfgang. She enjoys most sports and can often be found cheering on her NC State Wolfpack, Carolina Panthers, and Carolina Hurricanes.