April 15, 2021 9 min read
Have you ever heard of “prebiotics” and “probiotics?” For that matter, have you ever heard of the “gut microbiome?”
Even if you’re a health conscious individual, there’s a good chance that all that you know about “probiotics” as of this writing is that they are healthy bacteria that can be found in certain yogurt, that can help you if you’ve got a bit of digestive trouble, and that you should maybe add to your diet if you’re on a course of antibiotics.
As for all the rest, it’s nowhere near as prominent in the public awareness yet as it should be.
According to modern researchers on health, including the scientist Tim Spector, author of the highly acclaimed book “The Diet Myth,” which focuses completely on the gut microbiome – in other words, the colony of bacteria that live in our guts – there’s an increasing amount of evidence that these bacteria are intimately connected to just about everything that we experience, healthwise, in our lives.
Among other things, researchers have found that certain strains of bacteria in the gut seem to prevent obesity, while others promote it – and there are twin studies that show that even if two genetically identical individuals have the exact same lifestyle and diet, but different microbiomes, one can be overweight while the other is lean, one can experience health conditions while the other is healthy, and more.
When all is said and done, the microbes in your gut can keep you healthy, can protect your brain, can keep you lean, and can even keep you happy and ward off depression.
So, your “gut microbiome” is the colony of bacteria and other organisms that live within your gut.
“Probiotics” are healthy bacteria, some of which will already live in your gut, but which can also be introduced to your gut through probiotic foods – typically fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi, and things like yogurt and kefir.
“Prebiotics” are the things that nourish and feed your probiotic bacteria, and your gut microbiome as a whole. Prebiotics are composed of certain plant fibers and compounds, and without them, the beneficial microbes in your gut will not be able to survive.
So, let’s take a closer look at some of these topics.
Fortunately, prebiotics are not rare by any means. In fact, they are found all throughout the plant kingdom to such an extent that you could accurately say that all plants contain some prebiotic compounds.
In fact, both the highly acclaimed scientist Tim Spector, and the gastroenterologist Will Bulsiewicz, author of the microbiome-focused book, “Fiber Fueled,” have recently cited pioneering research that shows that the single most significant factor in determining the health and diversity of an individual’s gut microbiome, is the variety of plant foods they consume on a weekly basis.
This single factor appears to be more important even than things like total overall fiber consumption.
Of course, just because all plant foods contain some prebiotics, and you should eat as broad a range of them as possible on a regular basis for a healthy microbiome, that doesn’t mean that all plant foods contain an equivalent amount of those prebiotics.
Generally speaking, you will want to emphasis plant foods that have a high soluble fiber content – like lentils, beans, peas, and other legumes, and fibrous greens such as leeks.
As a general rule, however, you should remember that prebiotics are found almost exclusively in plant foods and extracts taken from plant foods, and that eating a rich variety of different plant foods is thought to be the single most powerful factor in ensuring the optimal range of different prebiotics in your diet.
There are prebiotics of all different types, which nourish a variety of different gut microbes that will have beneficial health effects, when everything is taken into proper consideration.
When it comes to prebiotic supplements, or products that contain added prebiotics, however, there are some which are frequently thought to be more potent, effective, and impressive than certain others.
The prebiotics that you’ll find in Wonder Drink are known as Xylo-oligosaccharides, also known as XOS Fiber, andare known to have the effect of nourishing Bifidobacterium and other lactic acid bacteria specifically – these bacteria are known to be among the most beneficial bacteria found in the gut, and are included in most leading probiotic supplements.
Inulin is another leading prebiotic that is associated with a range of great benefits to the gut microbiome, and to Bifidobacterium in particular.
Psyllium Husk is yet another popular dietary fiber with certain prebiotic benefits, although research appears to suggest that it’s not as potent and effective at directly nourishing the microbes in the gut as other prebiotic fiber.
While all vegetables – at least in their minimally processed forms – are bound to have certain prebiotic benefits, there are definitely certain types that you should emphasis above others, in order to ensure that you have the greatest amount of beneficial prebiotic compounds in your diet.
Perhaps first and foremost, it is likely to be very much in your favor to include plenty of legumes in your diet, as these are among the plant foods known to have the strongest beneficial effects in nourishing healthy gut microbes. In fact, legume consumption is directly associated with the repair process of the gut, by friendly bacteria, according to certain researchers.
So, think lentils, black beans, kidney beans, and all the rest.
Generally speaking, you will want to introduce these foods to your diet slowly, starting with small portions and increasing the amount over time, in order to give your gut microbiome time to adjust, so that you don’t experience the chronic digestive distress that many people do report, when increasing their legume consumption.
These foods are among the highest in gut-friendly soluble fiber – which is essentially what prebiotics are – that you are likely to encounter anywhere. So, using them as a cornerstone staple food in your diet is a great way of giving your gut microbes a “healthy base.”
Of course, you won’t be giving you gut microbes the best chance of thriving by simply gorging yourself on a couple of varieties of legumes at every meal. Total vegetable consumption is known to be the single most relevant factor in promoting a healthy gut microbiome.
Other vegetables that are high in beneficial fiber include leeks, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, and garlic and onions (which are surprisingly among the richest of all plant foods in prebiotic fiber and other compounds that are associated with a healthy gut.)
As with vegetables, eating a broad variety of fruits is an excellent way of ensuring that you maintain a thriving gut microbiome, with the greatest possible diversity of healthy gut microbes.
Unlike with vegetables, however, many of the fruits we tend to enjoy most these days have been selectively bred and modified over time to contain the highest possible amount of sugar, and a relatively reduced amount of fiber.
Sugar found in processed foods is associated with the growth of unhealthy yeasts and other organisms in the gut, and a less healthy gut microbiome, populated by fewer beneficial bacteria.
It’s important to mention, though, that the sugar found in fruits doesn’t seem to be associated with this negative effect.
Nonetheless, when it comes to choosing fruits that are likely to be particularly beneficial in terms of nourishing your gut microbiome with probiotics, you should probably emphasis fruits that have a lower overall sugar content, and a higher fiber content.
In practical terms, that means fewer bananas, fewer plums, and so on, and more apples, pears, berries.
There is an important point to make here as well: although prebiotic foods are primarily soluble fiber, there are also compounds in plant foods that may not be strictly “prebiotic” in the traditional sense, which are nonetheless associated with creating a more thriving gut microbiome, and nourishing certain beneficial bacteria, or otherwise leading to positive changes in the gut as a whole.
Among the most beneficial substances found in fruits, other than the fiber, are the pigments found in highly colorful foods such as berries.
So the rule for fruits is generally to eat fruits that have a higher fiber and a lower sugar content, and to also focus on fruits that have rich and vibrant colors – with berries being among the most powerful in terms of their gut microbiome nourishing benefits.
As with vegetables, though, the greater the variety of fruit you eat the better – so don’t get too caught up on only eating the “perfect” fruit.
Yoghurt is not a food that contains a substantial amount of prebiotics, unless they have been added to the finished product as part of a deliberate effort by the manufacturer.
Instead, yogurts are a food that contains “probiotics” – in other words, the healthy bacteria themselves that can colonize your gut, and that will then need to be nourished by probiotics if they are to survive.
Probiotic foods are important to include in your diet as well, and as a general rule of thumb, all probiotic foods will be foods that have undergone a process of fermentation.
In addition to yogurt, perhaps the most popular and beneficial probiotic dairy product is kefir, which is essentially a sour fermented milk with a slightly thicker consistency, that features particular beneficial bacteria.
The bacteriaLactobacillus kefiriis perhaps the “Hallmark” bacteria found in kefir, as it is quite unique to that foodstuff.
Different yogurts will include different strains of gut healthy bacteria, with some yogurts being more beneficial and including a broader variety of bacteria than others.
According to US regulations, yogurt must contain at least the two probiotic bacteria strainsStreptococcus thermophilus, andLactobacillus bulgaricus.
Of course, although probiotic dairy products can be beneficial for many people, there are many other people who do not tolerate dairy products well either due to lactose intolerance, milk allergy, or potentially even a negative reaction to some of the microbes found in certain dairy products.
Fortunately, there are all sorts of different ways of getting probiotics in your diet without having to consume dairy.
Firstly, it’s worth quickly mentioning that you can enjoy plant-based alternatives to traditional dairy kefir and yoghurt, with beneficial probiotic microbes added in. Plant-based coconut yogurt and plant-based coconut yogurt kefir are quite popular in particular, although these are somewhat niche products and may be a bit difficult to obtain, and will tend to cost more than certain other probiotic foods.
Leaving the world of dairy and plant-based dairy alternatives altogether, however, many of the best and most popular probiotic foods are based on fermented vegetables.
In particular, sauerkraut is a timeless traditional food made from fermented cabbage, that contains a wide variety of beneficial probiotic microbes, and other variants on the same theme include kimchi and natto, which are based on fermented cabbage and assorted other vegetables (in the case of kimchi), and fermented soybeans (in the case of natto.)
There are different types of dietary fiber out there, and these can be broadly divided into “soluble” and “insoluble” fiber.
Usually, when we think of “fiber,” it’s really the insoluble stuff we are thinking of. “Ruffage,” in other words.
It’s this type of fiber that essentially adds bulk to our stool, and helps food to transit through our digestive systems more quickly and smoothly. But insoluble fiber doesn’t seem to have much actual effect on the gut microbiome one way or the other, although there are certain other health benefits associated with eating enough of it.
Soluble fiber, on the other hand, is fiber that takes on a gel-like consistency when mixed with water and put through our digestive systems. This type of fiber also can’t be “digested” by us, but it can be digested by our gut microbes – and it’s what nourishes them, as well.
When people talk about prebiotics, what they’re really talking about, for the most part, is soluble fiber – and foods that include soluble fiber have the ability to nourish our gut microbiomes in a range of beneficial ways.
Although “prebiotic” generally means “soluble fiber,” however, the picture isn’t exactly that clear-cut.
As mentioned earlier, there are various components of plant foods that have a beneficial effect on the gut microbiome, and play a role in nourishing our gut bacteria, but which aren’t strictly speaking composed of soluble fiber in the way we generally think of it.
These other beneficial compounds include things like the pigments that give certain foods their rich colors – such as blueberries and beetroot, for example.
Of course, the human body, and the foods we eat, are all more mysterious than we often imagine. It was only in the last few years that we began to understand the importance of the gut microbiome, for example.
It’s probably safe to assume that there is still more to the picture of microbiome health, and prebiotic and probiotic foodstuffs, than we are currently aware of.
There are various popular and potent prebiotic supplements on the market today, which can contribute significantly to enhancing the health of your gut microbiome.
One of the more popular of these supplements is Bimuno, which is based on Galacto Oligosaccharides derived from milk.
Hyperbiotics Prebiotic is another popular prebiotic product that contains inulin fiber from Jerusalem Artichoke, among other things.
But, of course, no good list of prebiotic supplements would be complete without our very ownWonder Drink kombucha beverages; rich in potent prebiotics that have been found to help nourish a thriving gut microbiome.
Wonder Drink does not claim to carry any of the health benefits listed in the article.
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