We have all heard about probiotics, and how good they are for our gut health. New research is emerging constantly about the importance of our gut microbiome in everything from improving our digestion to boosting our mood, to cancer prevention to blocking infections. Did you know that our microbes outnumber our own human cells about 10 to 1!? Microbes in our gut have a major role in controlling our cravings, and this is partly why you can develop a taste for kale. In fact, the more healthy food you eat, the more healthy food you (and your gut bacteria) will crave.
When you think of probiotics, you may only think of supplements, or possibly of dairy foods. Prebiotics may be even more mysterious. In this article I will explain the role and value of probiotics and prebiotics, and introduce the amazing variety of probiotic and prebiotic plant-based foods you can start adding to your diet right now to supercharge your gut health.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for our health that we can introduce to our bodies through supplements, or by eating cultured or fermented foods naturally rich in probiotics. Although there are some dairy products with live cultures, there are many great plant-based options too! Some of the foods on this list surprised me – (hello dark chocolate) – and I’ve been inspired to up my intake of plant-based probiotic foods:
- Kimchi (look for a plan-based brand, some recipes have seafood)
- Miso (so delicious! Try this Spicy Miso Soup. So healthy, easy, inexpensive, and my whole family loved it! Win, win, win!)
- Sourdough bread
- Dill pickles (look for varieties pickled in brine, not just vinegar)
- Soy and Nut milks with live cultures
- Dark Chocolate
- Coconut water kefir (I’ve never tried it! But this recipe looks good!)
Prebiotics are so important, and misunderstood! Prebiotics are dietary plant fibre that our bodies can not digest, but the friendly bacteria in our guts feed on them. In fact, without prebiotics, the probiotics in our gut will die. So – that expensive probiotic supplement? Without a fibre-rich diet, your probiotics will unfortunately starve and die. All prebiotics are plant-based. Inulin and oligofructose have particularly robust probiotic effects. Your pre-biotic fibre will be more effective if you eat it raw, so try some of the pre-biotic-rich foods below in salads and smoothies:
- Garlic, leeks and onions
- Veggies like tomatoes, asparagus, cabbage and jicama (this is my new favourite vegetable! I love to eat it raw; so crunchy and delicious).
- Artichokes are another great option (perfect pizza topping!)
- Try some root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes.
- Of course dark leafy greens are a good source, especially dandelion greens
- Pulses (lentils and beans)
- Fruits like apples, bananas and nerries (berries are full of antioxidants too)
- Chicory root (you can mix this with your coffee)
- Wheat (nutrient-dense sources include wheat berries, wheat bran, wheat germ and sprouted whole wheat bread).
- Yummy sweeteners like agave and maple syrup (great alternatives to sugar for added nutrients)
Jerusalem articokes, or sunchokes are a particularly rich source. Try shredding them into a salad – although watch out! They do have a reputation for causing flatulence – oops! Start with smaller amounts and build your intake gradually – your gut will be glad you did!
Maybe try a smoothie with banana and berries, or dip some raw root veggies in hummus, or add some kimchi to your rice bowl. There are so many delicious and healthy ways to love your gut with plants. Here is a great, easy and delicious smoothie recipe you can start out with:
Berry Banana Smoothie
1 fresh or frozen banana
½ cup fresh or frozen berries like raspberries or strawberries or mixed berries
1 cup coconut water