A healthy gut is an important component of a strong immune system and good health overall. Our "gut biome" includes trillions of bacteria and other microorganisms that aid digestion. These microorganisms constantly reproduce and interact with each other. Excessive fat, sugar, and animal products may create a toxic gut environment that harms healthy microbes, which lets unhealthy ones thrive and expand.
We need to eat foods containing probiotics and prebiotics to maintain a healthy gut biome. Probiotics provide beneficial microbes, while foods containing prebiotics help those microbes thrive and grow.
Prebiotics are actually fibers and starches that aren't broken down by human digestive enzymes. These digestive-resistant compounds become food for beneficial microbes in the gut. Microbes break down prebiotics for energy and produce short-chain fatty acids, or SCFAs, that contribute to a strong immune system.
Most plant-based foods contain indigestible fibers and starches, but legumes, such as beans, lentils, split peas, and chickpeas, are exceptionally rich sources of prebiotics.
Asparagus is also a good source of prebiotics for beneficial microbes, as well as many other nutrients such as folic acid, vitamin K, iron, and niacin.
Cooked asparagus may help relieve some digestive disorders by reducing inflammation. There are over 300 types of edible asparagus, so try different varieties to reap the benefits of this nutritious vegetable.
Bananas promote a healthy gut because they contain prebiotic fiber and water. A medium-sized banana may provide up to 10% of the recommended amount of dietary fiber for an adult. This popular fruit is also a rich source of potassium.
The BRAT diet, which some doctors recommend to treat diarrhea, includes bananas, applesauce, rice, and toast. Research studies find that fiber and antioxidants in bananas may encourage the growth of beneficial microbes called lactobacilli and inhibit the growth of some harmful bacteria.
Sauerkraut is rapidly gaining a reputation as a probiotic superfood. It's not easy to quantify the health benefits of sauerkraut because each preparation of the fermented food may contain varying amounts and types of probiotics. However, there are advantages of eating fermented foods instead of relying on supplements with carefully measured probiotic content.
A batch of sauerkraut may contain up to 28 strains of bacteria, which is significantly more variety than most supplements can provide. Probiotics from fermented food are also more likely to grow and thrive in the intestines than probiotics in supplements.
Kimchi is another fermented food with high concentrations of live probiotics. The vegetables in kimchi provide plenty of fiber, and the fermentation process includes lactic acid bacteria that may promote immune function.
Although fish paste and other fish products are used in many traditional kimchi preparations, studies find that kimchi prepared with miso, or soy paste, has very similar probiotic content. This means vegans and vegetarians can also benefit from this food.
Tempeh is usually made with fermented soybeans, although other beans and legumes can be used instead. The plant-based food is very rich in fiber. However, many tempeh products available in grocery stores have been pasteurized and may not contain live probiotics.
Consumers can look for providers selling unpasteurized tempeh or make the dish at home to benefit from its wide range of probiotics and prebiotics.
Raw apple cider vinegar contains pectin, which is a prebiotic fiber. Pectin may reduce cholesterol in the gut and encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria. In addition, antioxidants in apple cider vinegar may help protect cells from damaging free radicals.
Most studies examining the health benefits of apple cider vinegar are inconclusive. Adding small amounts of apple cider vinegar to your daily diet may have some positive benefits, but vinegar is acidic. Undiluted vinegar can cause irritation or burns in the esophagus, and frequent exposure may erode tooth enamel, so experts recommend having it with water or juice.
Kefir is a type of thin yogurt produced when kefir grain ferments milk sugars. It has a tart, slightly acidic taste and is very popular in breakfast cereals, smoothies, and other beverages.
Most kefir products are good sources of fiber and probiotics that are important for gut health. Although kefir is usually made with dairy milk, there are also vegetarian and vegan options based on soy milk.
Kombucha is a fermented beverage made with plant material and a variety of microorganisms such as lactic acid bacteria, yeasts, and acetic acid bacteria. The teas, juices, or herbs used to produce kombucha contain many bioactive compounds, which often function as antioxidants.
Specific benefits vary according to the ingredients and fermentation process of different types of kombucha, but the beverage provides a wide range of beneficial microbes, prebiotics, and probiotics.
Researchers from the National University of Singapore developed fermented tea and coffee products packed with live probiotics. The fermentation process works by adding nutrients and probiotics to any type of brewed coffee or tea. Each preparation ferments for approximately 48 hours and contains over 1 billion probiotics.
The coffee or tea also retains chlorogenic acid, which is linked to low blood pressure and weight management. Although the health benefits are the main priority, the researchers also developed different tasty flavors.
This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.