Last week’s healthy habit was the start of this mini series in the 52 Weeks to 52 Healthy Habits series about supporting your digestive system. Many people are trying to improve their digestion, minimize uncomfortable symptoms of digestive disorders, boost their immunity or trying to lose weight. Support your gut health is the first step to almost all of those goals. To kick off this mini series, last week we focused on nourishing the GI system by consistently replenishing it with good gut bacteria known as probiotics. Be sure to check out that post before reading this one, then come back!
This week we want to focus on incorporating foods that feed the gut microbiota so they stick around and flourish.
Fiber is a starch/carbohydrate like substance with a chemical structure that prevents humans from digesting it. Surprisingly, even though we can’t digest, fiber is crucial for our health and well being. There are actually many types of fiber that are characterized by it’s ability to be fermented by the bacteria in the digestive system and the amount of bulk they add. One type of fiber, classified as prebiotic fiber is defined in a recent research summary (1) as meeting three criteria:
- Restricts the natural acidity of the gastric juices, breakdown by enzymes, and is not absorbed in the upper gastrointestinal tract
- Is fermented by he intestinal microflora
- Stimulates the growth or activity of beneficial intestinal bacteria
Potential Health Benefits of Prebiotic Fiber
The same paper summarizes the following potential benefits of prebiotic fiber as:
- reduce diarrhea associated with infection and antibiotic use
- may reduce inflammation and symptoms associated with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- decreased risk of colon cancer
- enhancement of bioavailability of minerals such as calcium, magnesium and potentially iron
- lower risk of cardiovascular disease
- increase satiety leading to weight loss and obesity prevention
Foods High In Prebiotic Fiber:
- Chicory Root — found in many commercial products such as Chobani simply yogurt and KIND bars
- Dandelion Greens — I love to add Dandy Blend (which contains chicory and dandelion greens) to teas, smoothies, oatmeal etc
- Jerusalem Artichoke — can be eaten raw or cooked
- Garlic — most likely need to use fresh garlic for the fiber vs. the seasoning
- Onions and Leeks
- Bananas (let’s be honest I eat a banana every day, but for those of you that need to hide them —>
- Raw Wheat Bran
- Whole Oats (all oats, steel cut oats have highest amount)
- Flaxseed (easily added to baked goods, smoothies and oatmeal)- be sure to keep in the fridge and use ground (not the whole seeds)
- IMO (Isomalto-oligosaccharides)
- This topic is HIGHLY debated in the nutrition world. IMO is a common component of many protein bars (used to be in quest bars until they switched to soluble corn fibre). Some say it is a prebiotic fiber worthy of its title and others debate it’s classified as a prebiotic do to a loop hole in terminology and is really just glorified processed syrup. I love many of the bars with this as an ingredient so I won’t knock it, I’ll just say don’t make a protein bar or any other processed food/supplement your main source of fiber.
This week’s challenge is to include at least one of those foods every single day. If you already do that, then shoot for two!
52 Healthy Habits in 52 Weeks Series:
The 52 Healthy Habits Series is about ditching the diet mindset and making small changes to improve health overall naturally leading to a healthy body composition, increased energy and improved health. Please follow a long and check out the past weeks!
1. Slavin, Joanne. “Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits.”Nutrients 5.4 (2013): 1417-1435.