You feed your gut plenty of probiotics because you know a healthy gut is associated with better mood, stronger immunity, streamlined digestion and more. But are you feeding your probiotics what they need to perform at their best?
That’s where prebiotics come in. Our bodies can’t digest this specific type of carb, found in certain foods like bananas and asparagus and alliums like onions, leeks and garlic, so instead, it’s used by good gut bacteria to stay strong.
“Think about prebiotics as the fuel for your probiotics,” Jo Ann Hattner, RD, co-author of Gut Insight: Probiotics and Prebiotics for Health and Well-Being, tells Clean Plates. “They can even help the probiotics in your supplements ‘wake up’ in the body so that you’re using more of them.”
In other words, pairing prebiotic and probiotic foods makes the whole system work better. And it can be as simple as adding some banana slices to your yogurt, or eating some asparagus sauteed with garlic after you pop a probiotic supplement, such as Probiogen.
Prebiotics also may help you manage stress more effectively and sleep better, even after a stressful day. In one recent study, researchers fed prebiotics to one group of rats and not another, then subjected both sets to a stressor. The rats fed the prebiotics experienced less disruption to their gut flora and recovered healthier sleep patterns faster than the other group. Though the work was done on animals, “the stressor the rats received was the equivalent of a single intense acute stressful episode for humans, such as a car accident or the death of a loved one,” Dr. Robert S. Thompson of the University of Colorado at Boulder, lead author of the study, told the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. “A next set of studies will be looking exactly at that question: Can prebiotics help humans to protect and restore their gut microflora and recover normal sleep patterns after a traumatic event?”
As an added bonus, the high-fiber content of prebiotic foods can confer other health benefits, Hattner notes, including improved cholesterol balance, better control of blood sugar levels, and more regular digestion.
Ready to feed your gut flora the foods they love best? Here are some good sources, plus an easy prebiotic-packed breakfast:
- Onions, leeks, shallots, garlic
- Cashews and pistachios
- Asparagus, Savoy cabbage, artichokes, green peas and snow peas
- Apples, bananas, nectarines, persimmons
- Oatmeal and other whole grains, flaxseed
Bio: Elizabeth Millard is a freelance health journalist, organic farmer, yoga teacher, and beet enthusiast. Her work has appeared in SELF, Men’s Health, CNN, and other publications.
- 1 cup steel cut oats
- 2 cups water
- 1/2 cup unsulfured dried apples, chopped
- 1/2 cup unsulfured dried apricots, chopped
- 1/2 cup no-sugar added orange juice
- 4 teaspoons chia seeds, divided
- Cook oats according to package instructions.
- Meanwhile, heat the water in a saucepan and when it boils, add the dried apples and apricots. Turn the heat off and let sit for 15 minutes. Add the orange juice and simmer until the fruit is soft and the liquid is completely absorbed, about 10-12 minutes.
- Portion the porridge into 4 bowls. Sprinkle each serving with a teaspoon chia seeds and spoon the fruit compote on top.