Probiotic use in North America is expected to grow 6.9 percent from 2012 to 2020, according to Grand View Research.
Regularly ingesting probiotic foods and supplements including kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, kefir, yogurt and miso can become expensive fast.
What if I told you there is a cheaper, simpler way to support a healthy gut?
Prebiotic foods are highly affordable, fiber-rich, natural foods that can be found in any supermarket. Many of these foods cost less than two dollars! So what are these prebiotics, and in what foods can you find them?
So what exactly are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are simple, natural foods that provide the building blocks for probiotics, which are the digestive enzymes that help promote good bacteria. Because prebiotic foods are unprocessed whole foods, they can be easier to digest and assimilate into your system.
Prebiotic foods are also typically cheaper to add to your daily diet, which makes gut-friendly food much more accessible to lower income families.
Why you should choose natural sources of prebiotics
It may seem that because natural sources of prebiotics and probiotics are good for you, that more is better. According to an article by the Wall Street Journal, adding additional good bacteria into foods where they already exist can actually break down the existing strains of good bacteria.
The prebiotic inulin is also being pumped into food so that products can be advertised as fiber-rich cereals or breakfast bars.
According to Joanne Slavin, a nutrition professor at the University of Minnesota, when we ingest inulin from fortified sources, we are missing out on the natural vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. As a result, the food that we think is healthy is incomplete, whereas natural, whole sources of prebiotics are a symphony of nutrients that work together to provide our bodies with what we need.
It may surprise you to find out that you probably already eat many of these on a regular basis. Here are a few healthy, affordable prebiotics that anyone can enjoy.
Beans and legumes
Beans are packed with fiber, but also have oligosaccharides which aid digestion. Oligosaccharides also cause the infamous gas problems commonly associated with beans. Legumes contain a lot of the same nutrients but are often easier to digest than beans. If you have problems digesting beans or legumes, soak them overnight.
Whether it’s from oats or rice, bran is filled with insoluble fiber that feeds good bacteria and keeps you regular. Bran is also great for cholesterol and promoting a healthy heart.
Make sure your bran and grains are certified non-GMO to ensure there isn’t anything in there that can counteract the benefits of the prebiotics.
Bananas are also great for digestion and can help with diarrhea. Bananas are great sources of natural sugars, potassium and vitamins B and C.
Eating your bananas when they are fully ripe will help them be assimilated more easily. Unripe bananas are more starchy and are harder for the stomach acids to break down.
Onions are one of the cheapest foods that promotes good digestion. Onions are high in antioxidants and a chemical called inulin, which helps feed good bacteria.
Onions will promote good bacteria even when they are cooked.
Leeks have the same benefits as onions, including inulin. They are, however, higher in chlorophyll and have less of a crunch to them. These mild onions can be added to a wide variety of dishes and are great in soups or salads.
Garlic is high in vitamin B6 which helps boost your metabolism. Like an onion, it is also high in inulin. Not only does garlic promote good bacteria, it is also antibacterial, so it kills bad bacteria too!
Artichokes are a great low-glycemic way to get your prebiotics. They are low in net carbohydrates and full of fiber.
They pair well with other prebiotic foods such as garlic, leeks, onions, legumes and beans.
Grilled asparagus is a delicious side dish that actually helps to promote a healthy gut. Asparagus are rich in fiber, B vitamins, folate and protein.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with cooking asparagus — grilling, sautéing, or baking. Cooking it won’t damage its prebiotic ability, but also don’t be afraid to try it raw.
High in soluble fiber, root vegetables are great for digestion. Not only can they be cooked in a variety of ways, but there are plenty of root veggies from which to choose. Beets, carrots, turnips, yams, jicama, parsnips, squash and sweet potatoes will all promote a balanced belly.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away. It will also keep things flowing normally. Apples are high in inulin and pectin, which promote good bacteria, as well as natural FOS, or fructo-oligosaccharides.
Chicory root is an herb that is often used as a coffee or tea additive or coffee replacement. Chicory root is anti-inflammatory, good for digestion, lowers bad cholesterol, reduces pain and can improve the immune system.
Not all inulin is created equally and chicory root is considered a more powerful prebiotic because its inulin strands are longer than in most prebiotic foods.
Dandelions are also a rich source of prebiotics. These are perhaps the cheapest of all the prebiotics as they can be found growing in the wild or even in your yard. Dandelion greens and their flowers are delicious and taste great in salads and wraps. Dandelions can help regulate insulin levels, ease digestion and help with weight loss.
Dried fruit is great for digestion and can help ease constipation. Dried fruit includes dates, dried figs, dried apricots, prunes and raisins. Dried fruit contains lots of fiber without the water, so make sure to stay hydrated when eating dried fruit. Too much dried fruit may cause diarrhea, abdominal pain or excess gas, so enjoy in small quantities.
Nuts and seeds
Cashews and pistachios contain inulin. While cashews are often considered to be a nut, they are actually seeds. Cashews are high in vitamins B, C, E and K and contain monounsaturated fats, which are good for the heart. Pistachios contain both polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and are great for weight management, iron deficiency and preventing age-related degenerative diseases.