Fast-Track Your Gut Health With Prebiotics

When it comes to sustainable wellness, one of the guiding principles is the notion that when you heal and restore the gut, true health begins. With a revitalized gut comes stronger immunity, a body that’s much better equipped to stop many common ills – from major to minor – from dragging you down.

Simply put, health starts in the gut. Keeping your good and bad bacteria in balance is essential to maintaining gut health. In order to keep the bad guys in check and the good guys flourishing, you need probiotics, for sure, but the gut also needs prebiotics, the less-talked-about but likely even more important dietary side of the ‘biotic’ coin. Here’s a topline on these oft-overlooked gut-supporting foot soldiers and how to get more of them into your life – and gut.

What are prebiotics?

If you’re familiar with probiotics, you’re probably are aware they help add or ‘seed’ the gut with good bacteria and balance the ratio of good-to-bad. This bacterial balance facilitates better nutrient absorption, strengthens immunity and keeps health and digestion humming. Prebiotic foods – primarily indigestible plant fibers – have similarly positive digestive effects, but the twist here is that all those prebiotic foods nourish the good bacteria already living in the gut (aka the ‘resident’ bacteria) and encourage their growth. Think of prebiotics as the fertilizer that enables your gut garden to thrive.

Where can I get them?

You’ll find the prebiotic big guns in the (preferably organic) produce aisle. There, you’ll find a treasure trove of prebiotic foods loaded with inulin and oligosaccharides, the non-digestible carbs, which ferment in the gut and create by-product compounds that support the gut’s resident “bugs.” These, in turn, help keep you healthy. A few easy-to-incorporate prebiotic plant-fiber champs include:

  • Almonds
  • Asparagus
  • Green/under-ripe Bananas
  • Chicory root (raw)
  • Dark leafy greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Endive
  • Garlic (raw)
  • Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes
  • Jicama (raw)
  • Leeks (raw)
  • Legumes like lentils, black beans, kidney beans and chickpeas
  • Onions (raw or cooked)
  • Green Plantains

Save the stalks and stems!

Broccoli and cauliflower florets may be pretty on the plate, but the stalks and stems are where it’s at from a prebiotic point of view. Same goes for red chard stalks, kale and collard green stems — so don’t throw them out! Those underrated but valuable tough veggie bits play an important role in gut health by giving your good bacteria something, namely cellulose fibers, to feast on. Try slicing stalks and stems into thin discs or skinny strips. You can munch on these raw, crudités style, or give ‘em a light steam or sauté with the rest of your veggie leaves and florets.

Harness some crazy good prebiotic benefits.

Not all that impressed with fewer digestive problems and strengthened immunity? Then how about less disease-triggering inflammation, reduced cardiovascular disease risk, fewer autoimmune flare-ups and improved hormone balance?  There’s even a fair number of studies suggesting that prebiotics have a positive impact on taming stress and anxiety levels, making your next bowl of leafy greens considerably more of a mind/body super-meal than a sleep-inducing, anxiety-goosing, insulin-trashing bowl of spaghetti carbonara.

Eat more, weigh less.

Another positive side-effect of a diet that’s deep into prebiotics? Less hunger. All that nutrient-rich, regularity-promoting indigestible fiber helps fill your belly and curbs hunger longer. With this increased satiety, chances are you’ll be a lot less likely to pork out on empty-calorie nasties like sugar, simple carbs and nutrient-free processed foods which, by the way, do a lousy job of keeping you full. And from there, it’s a hop-skip-jump to reduced weight and blood sugar levels. But keep in mind, it’s not a case of “one salad and your gut’s done.” Like the Tamagotchi digital pet of the early ‘00’s, you need to keep feeding it to thrive. So keep the prebiotics – and all their fermentation-facilitating indigestible fiber – flowing at every meal.

Your prebiotic prescription.

If you’re not used to eating a lot of prebiotic foods, start slow and work your way up to optimal levels over the course of a few days or weeks, depending on how well your gut tolerates the influx. Assuming you do not have major gastrointestinal problems (like Crohn’s or IBS), try working your way up to 3 – 5 servings or more each day. Keep in mind, in general, raw foods will retain more of prebiotic fiber than cooked, so opt for raw whenever possible. In the case of tougher-to-eat-raw foods like asparagus, very lightly steaming or home-fermenting can make them easier to incorporate into meals.

Let’s eat a little (prebiotic) treat.

In addition to upping your intake with the fiber-rich produce listed above, you can also sneak a few more prebiotics into your day with these delicious Ginger Carob Chip cookies, one of our favorite, not-too-sweet healthy, homemade treats from the Be Well kitchen. Enjoy!

PIONEER IN FUNCTIONAL AND INTEGRATIVE MEDICINEFor Dr. Frank Lipman, health is more than just the absence of disease: it is a total state of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and social wellbeing. Dr. Lipman is a widely recognized trailblazer and leader in functional and integrative medicine, and he is a New York Times best-selling author of five books, How To Be Well, The New Health Rules, 10 Reasons You Feel Old and Get Fat, Revive and Total Renewal.After his initial medical training in his native South Africa, Dr. Lipman spent 18 months working at clinics in the bush. He became familiar with the local traditional healers, called sangomas, which kindled his interest in non-Western healing modalities.In 1984, Dr. Lipman immigrated to the United States, where he became the chief medical resident at Lincoln Hospital in Bronx, NY. While there, he became fascinated by the hospital’s addiction clinic, which used acupuncture and Chinese medicine to treat people suffering from heroin and crack addiction. Seeing the way these patients responded so positively to acupuncture made him even more aware of the potential of implementing non- Western medicine to promote holistic wellbeing. As a medical student, he was taught to focus on the disease rather than the patient, and now as a doctor he found himself treating symptoms rather than the root causes of illness. Frustrated by the constraints of his training, and the limitations in helping his patients regain true health, he began a journey of discovery to search for the path to meaningful long-term health and wellness.He began studying nutrition, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, functional medicine, biofeedback, meditation, and yoga. Dr. Lipman founded the Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in 1992, where he combines the best of Western medicine and cutting edge nutritional science with age-old healing techniques from the East. As his patient chef Seamus Mullen told The New York Times, "If antibiotics are right, he'll try it. If it's an anti-inflammatory diet, he’ll do that. He’s looking at the body as a system rather than looking at isolated things."In addition to his practice, Dr. Lipman is the creator of Be Well, an expanding lifestyle wellness brand he founded in 2010 to help people create, sustain and lead healthier lives.