Most people have heard of probiotics, the beneficial bacteria found in yogurt and other fermented foods, that optimize the body’s microbiome (the digestive tract) to keep us happy, healthy and regular. But many Americans may not be familiar with prebiotics, which nourish these beneficial probiotics.
Prebiotics provide a source of “food” for the good bacteria found in our digestive tract and it turns out there’s quite a crowd of bacteria to feed. Humans actually have 10 times more microbes in their bodies than human cells. But these bacteria are so tiny they make up less that 3 percent of our body weight. Most of these organisms live in the large intestine and are commonly called gut flora. The scientific community now believes they play an enormous role in maintaining good health.
A healthy, balanced microbiome is directly related to better digestion, improved immune function and a lower risk of many chronic conditions, including depression and anxiety. If individuals don’t have good gut bacteria, they may not be able to absorb nutrients from food as well as they should. And that can lead to generalized inflammation in the body, resulting in a huge host of diseases and medical conditions.
So keeping a good balance of bacteria in our microbiomes is essential in maintaining good health. We can do that by including fermented foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, pickles and kimchi, which all have beneficial bacteria.
But it’s also important to keep these beneficial bacteria well fed and that’s where prebiotics come into play. They are foods that are high in various forms of fiber, which is basically the stuff we don’t digest. So when these foods reach the colon, the good bacteria there get the chance to feast and thrive.
Some of the best sources of fiber and prebiotics come from vegetables, apples, garlic, salad greens, asparagus, artichokes, bananas and oats. Adding some or all of these to our daily intake of food will go a long way to keeping our microbiomes healthy and happy and our bodies healthier overall.