Updated: Nov 3
Your gut is home to a diverse culture of bacteria, fungi and viruses. We call this our "Gut Biome". Each and every one of us has a unique biome that affects everything from our moods to physical performance in a variety of ways.
It has been known for a long time that our gut health influences our skin, digestion, metabolism and even weight (1) (2). The colonies of bacteria in our gut are constantly at war, with beneficial bacteria competing against bad bacteria for space, and the outcome of this war determines a great deal about our overall health.
There are many ways we can positively and negatively affect our gut flora. Avoiding fake foods is a great way to inhibit "bad bacteria" proliferation. In order to populate and support the gut with "good bacteria", we must introduce strains of good bacteria and provide them with food. This is where probiotics and prebiotics come into play.
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What Are Pro- And Prebiotics?
Probiotics are foods that provide beneficial bacteria. These are commonly fermented or come in supplement form.
Prebiotics act as food for these bacteria. These are often in the form of fibrous fruit and vegetables.
6 Great Sources Of Pro- and Prebiotics
Sauerkraut - Probiotic
Sauerkraut is a fermented cabbage dish originating, not from Germany (despite its name), but from China. It is thought that Chinese labourers consumed it whilst constructing the Great Wall over 2000 years ago. Whilst sauerkraut may not contain as many bacteria as other probiotics it is still a highly beneficial food to add to your diet (3). Avoid pasteurised sauerkraut as the pasteurisation process kills all the bacteria, defeating the point!
Jerusalem Artichokes - Prebiotic
The Jerusalem artichoke is a root vegetable from the sunflower family. Despite the name, they have no connection to Jerusalem, their name is a bastardisation of the Italian for “sunflower” - Girasole - and the name Jerusalem artichoke was given due to this mistranslation. Jerusalem artichokes are high in inulin - an insoluble fibre - which is highly beneficial to gut health (4). It can be cooked as you would a potato, or eaten raw sliced in with a salad. One last thing to consider, Jerusalem artichokes can lead to gusty digestive side effects. So be warned and start with small amounts.
Flaxseed - Prebiotic
Flaxseeds are a great source of not only prebiotics but of other health-promoting nutrients. They are high in lignans which are powerful antioxidants with potential anticancer properties (5). Opt for organic flaxseed and, where possible, buy whole and grind yourself as whole flaxseeds will pass directly through our digestive system.
Kefir - Probiotic
Kefir is a fermented yoghurt drink originating from the Caucasus region made by combining milk and fermented kefir grains. The result is a slightly acidic yoghurt drink containing 10-30 different strains of bacteria. Always opt for full-fat varieties and avoid sweetened kefir drinks.
Kombucha - Probiotic
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that originates from China or Japan. it is made by combining tea with specific strains of bacteria, yeast and sugar. As this ferments, a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) forms on the surface which can be reused to make further batches of kombucha (6). Kombucha is a probiotic drink with a slightly vinegary taste and can be found in most health stores.
Kimchi - Pre- and Probiotic
Kimchi could be referred to as the Korean alternative to sauerkraut in that it is fermented cabbage, except this version adds different ingredients and spices. Kimchi provides many health benefits and can be added to almost any dish to liven things up (7)!
Adding prebiotic and probiotic foods to your diet can have many health benefits. Be aware, though, that any sudden changes to your diet, especially those which affect our digestion, can have some side effects. Slowly introduce these foods into your diet and, as always, follow a healthy, whole-food diet.