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Feed your microbiome | Health beat

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Among the many great foods that support gut health, whole grains take center stage. (For Spectrum Health Beat)


We all like a bit of consistency in our lives, but when it comes to gut health, regularity is the most important thing to most of us.

But a healthy gut does much more than keep us regular. The benefits include digestion, improving mood, and boosting our immune system.

Having a healthy intestine implies feeding our microbiome, those beneficial microorganisms in our womb. They need the right foods, called prebiotics, to do their job.

Prebiotics are fibers and starches in our food that our bodies cannot digest, but our gut microbiota love them. They feed on these ingredients to grow beneficial bacteria and produce beneficial substances like short-chain fatty acids.

These fatty acids help protect the colon, give us energy, help us lose weight, and even reduce the risk of some diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

So where can we get this microbiome fertilizer? Directly from nature.

Some of the best sources of prebiotics include:

  • Artichokes
  • Integral
  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Oatmeal
  • Flax seeds
  • Oatmeal
  • Onion and garlic
  • Leeks
  • Dry beans
  • Asparagus
  • Green leafy vegetables
  • Berries
  • Bananas
  • Honey
  • Potatoes

Cooking starchy foods ahead of time and eating them as leftovers after cooling is a great approach, as it can increase the prebiotic-resistant starch content of foods.

Many of these foods are also on the top superfood lists, and for good reason.

Here are some tips for adding more intestinal fuel to your diet:

  • Cut down on meats and add more dry beans to replace in tacos or spaghetti.
  • Batch cook whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, or potatoes at the beginning of the week to use in your meals as leftovers.
  • Sweeten plain yogurt or oatmeal with honey, bananas, and berries instead of adding sugar or buying sugar-filled options from the store.
  • Add ground flax seeds to your smoothies, yogurts, or oatmeal.
  • Use fresh garlic or onions for cooking instead of dry powders.
  • Mix the spinach into smoothies or stir fries.
  • Switch to 100% whole grains in breads, pastas, and cookies.

The key: Follow a plant-based diet with lots of variety. This will help improve your prebiotic intake and meet your daily fiber goals. For women, this is at least 25 grams per day. For men, it is 38 grams.

Keep in mind that people with irritable bowel syndrome can have their symptoms exacerbated by eating too many prebiotic foods. Consult a dietitian to find out the best plan for you.

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