4 April 2017A Healthier Gut Microbiome Thanks to Prebiotics

You've likely known for some time that your food choices matter when it comes to losing weight and preventing and treating disease. Did you realize that your food choices also impact the microbes living in your lower gut? Read on to learn about which foods contain prebiotic fiber and why it is important for health.

The gut microbiome consists of over 1,000 microbes that live inside the human gastrointestinal tract. The majority of microbes actually reside in the colon which is part of the large intestine (the last part of the gastrointestinal tract and final area of digestion). Here are a few of the known functions of the microbiome.

  1. Digestion of fiber to produce metabolic products for the colon
  2. Influences the development and maintenance of the immune system
  3. Synthesis of essential vitamins
  4. Fat storage
  5. Defense against infections

Researchers are in the process of understanding what exact foods contribute to a "healthy gut microbiome." One thing researchers have learned is the importance of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber, the type of carbohydrate that is not digested or absorbed by the body, is used as fuel for the microbiome. Microbes in the colon (namely lactobacilli and bifidobacteria) break down the components of dietary fiber through enzyme activity into simple sugars. These simple sugars are then fermented and the end products are short chain fatty acids such as acetate, butyrate, propionate. The short chain fatty acids serve as energy for the cells in the large intestine. High fiber diets (greater than 25g per day) favor the growth of butyrate producing microbes. And yet many Americans are not getting enough fiber in their diet. In fact the average American woman gets in only 15g of dietary fiber a day. The institute of medicine recommends 14g of dietary fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed for both men and women. For more information on foods that are high in fiber: Good Food Sources of Fiber.

One specific type of dietary fiber that functions to improve the health of the gut microbiome is inulin. Researchers have shown that inulin has several health benefits. When it comes to the microbiome, inulin increases the amount of calcium and other minerals absorbed from food.

Below is a list of foods containing inulin.

  • chicory root
  • dandelion root
  • asparagus
  • leeks
  • onions
  • bananas and plantains (especially when they're slightly green)
  • sprouted wheat (such as the kind used in Ezekiel bread)
  • garlic
  • Jerusalem artichokes

If you already eat these inulin rich foods on a regular basis, great! However, if you are not eating these foods, try incorporating at least one food at each meal. And as always, eating real food is the best way to improve your health over taking supplements. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid taking inulin supplements, as researchers are not sure of the exact effects of concentrated amounts of inulin during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

To learn more about additional positive food choices you can make to support a healthy gut microbiome, check out Donna Feldman's article, "Gut Bacteria: A New Twist on Weight Loss."

Cheers to eating more fiber rich foods. Your gut microbes will thank you~

Joanna Kriehn is a Registered Dietitian with a decade of experience working in the area of weight loss surgery. You can learn more about Joanna by visiting her LinkedIn page.

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Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot provide personalized advice and that the information provided does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit a medical professional.

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