Skim-read the latest health headlines and you'll wonder why everyone is talking about a common health topic we know so much about. But take a closer look and you'll realize they're not talking about probiotics, live bacteria, and yeasts that benefit your digestive system—they're focusing on prebiotics.
Prebiotics, a nondigestible ingredient that promotes the growth of good bacteria, is receiving a lot of attention lately thanks to its role in gut health. We know that the gut is linked to myriad systems in our body and has been associated with mood, weight, diseases, and more, so naturally, our interest was piqued when we heard that prebiotic-rich food might be the key to maintaining a healthy gut.
To find out more, we tapped Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, to push past the health jargon and get to the need-to-know takeaways: what it is, how it benefits you, and what to fill your cart with this weekend. Here's everything you need to know about the latest buzz term—and how to incorporate prebiotics into your diet in 24 hours.
What Actually Are Prebiotics?
Let's get things straight: "Probiotics are the good bacteria that populate the gut and help with everything from digestion to immunity and skin health," explains Axe. "Prebiotics, on the other hand, are a type of non-digestible fiber compound that becomes a nutrient source or 'food' for probiotics. You may know that high-sugar foods and processed carbohydrates feed the bad bacteria in the gut (like candida); well, prebiotics do the same thing for the good guys."
What Are the Benefits of Eating Them?
"Prebiotics have a synergistic relationship with probiotics, so many of the benefits of prebiotics are similar to those of increased probiotic intake," says Axe. The list is exhaustive, but here's a short list of some of the benefits from boosting your intake of prebiotic-rich foods:
- Better gut health and improved leaky gut
- Improved digestion and lower incidence of digestive disorders like IBS, IBD, and Chron's disease
- Better hormonal balance
- Lower risk for obesity and weight gain
- Lowered inflammation and autoimmune reactions, like arthritis or skin rashes
There are significant long-term benefits to note, too, says Axe. "Studies have shown that prebiotic foods can reduce the concentration of cancer-promoting enzymes while also reducing the incidence of tumors and cancer cells," he points out. "Studies have also shown that prebiotics can prevent heart disease and enhance the absorption of minerals in the body, which can protect bone health." Long story short: Eating more prebiotic foods will benefit you now and in the years to come, so it's certainly worthwhile.
What Food Should I Stock Up On?
A number of the ingredients on a prebiotic shopping list might sound a little obscure (acacia gum, anyone?), but Axe says there are a ton of options at your local farmers markets. "The good news is that there are plenty of high-prebiotic foods that you're probably already using on a regular basis—or at least have access to. Raw garlic and raw/cooked onions are two of my favorite sources of prebiotic foods, primarily because anyone can purchase them from their local grocery store," he says. "I've even seen pre-cut raw jicama sticks at Trader Joe's."
Follow this shopping list to stock up on prebiotic-rich foods:
- Raw garlic
- Raw or cooked onions
- Raw asparagus
- Raw leeks
- Under-ripe bananas (look for a touch of green at the tips)
- Raw dandelion greens
- Whole grain wheat
- Raw honey
How Can I Boost My Prebiotic Intake in 24 Hours?
"Start the day with a smoothie made with under-ripe banana, coconut milk, and your choice of frozen berry," he recommends. "If you're a coffee drinker, chickory root makes a great substitute and is also high in prebiotics."
Simply add a few raw prebiotic foods into your salad. "You can add onions to almost anything, from salads to salad dressings, sauces, stir fries, soups, side dishes of roasted veggies, and more."
Use raw garlic in homemade dips and top pizzas or other dishes with asparagus. "You can try shaving raw asparagus into your favorite salad, and raw garlic is delicious when blended into dips like hummus and guacamole, as well as sauces and dressings," he says.