The complex mix of good bacteria found in healthy human guts is something we're just beginning to understand, but one thing is certain: Getting plenty of healthy prebiotic foods helps create the right environment for good bacteria, and eating lots of fermented (unpasteurized) foods helps establish and maintain those colonies.
Prebiotic foods contain fibers that don't digest well, so they create an environment where good bacteria can thrive as they pass through us. Essentially, not all the food we eat is for us. Fibers like chicory root don't break down in our stomachs or small intestines very well. This means they arrive in the large intestine ready to feed the helpful bacteria we harbor there. We feed them and they take care of us. The fiber helps clean our intestines and also supports our bacterial friends.
Add these prebiotic foods to your grocery list for an added gut health boost:
With 64.6 percent prebiotic fiber by weight, the chicory root has a taste similar to coffee (though it contains no caffeine), has high amounts of carbohydrate fibers, and can be used in place of fats.
The Jerusalem artichoke, which has about 31.5 percent prebiotics by weight, is also one of the best anxiety-fighting foods, and can help de-stress those even predisposed to anxiety.
Raw dandelion greens have about 24.3 percent prebiotic fiber by weight and are one of the most nutritious edible flowers available. The petals themselves are sweet, while the green ends make for great additions to any salad.
From its heart-healing bonuses to its cancer-fighting properties, garlic is also one of the best diabetes-fighting herbs and spices. The onion relative is a strong anti-inflammatory food, and also has 17.5 percent prebiotics by weight, making it a great addition to some of your heartiest dishes.
Leeks, while being one of the best foods that fight cold and flu, are also loaded with dietary fiber, with just about 11.7 percent prebiotic fiber by weight.
With 8.6 percent prebiotic fiber by weight, the fiber boost is just one of the great health benefits of onions. The allium vegetables can also help keep your heart healthy, and double as bone-strengthening foods.
Though raw onions have a higher prebiotic fiber by weight than cooked onions (which have a count of 5 percent prebiotic fiber by weight), the cooked version still has a higher count than many other vegetables. Serve them caramelized (in the form of an onion and fig pizza) and reap their benefits.
Asparagus is not only a hangover-fighting food, but raw, it has 5 percent prebiotic fiber by weight. Adding it to a mushroom rice bowl or a breakfast frittata can help feed your body's healthy bacteria and heal your gut.
Both raw wheat bran and wheat flour, when baked, have 5 percent and 4.8 percent prebiotic fiber by weight, respectively. While good for your gut, people should get a simple blood test (called the IgG Food Allergy Test) to help see if they're sensitive to wheat and should avoid it.
While they're famously high in potassium and magnesium, bananas also contain 1 percent prebiotic fiber by weight. As an added perk for athletes, bananas are also as good as sports drinks, thanks to their antioxidants, fiber, potassium, and vitamin B6.
Adapted from The Urban Monk