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Prebiotics: Feed the Good Bugs in Your Gut

Instead of depending on taking probiotics to heal our gut, we need to change the terrain within the body to alter the balance of our microbiota. We can do this by avoiding the foods, toxins and environmental factors that encourage the growth of unhealthy bugs. Another important way to change the terrain of the gut is to provide the beneficial microbes with their preferred fuel source, allowing them to proliferate with ease and make your gut their preferred residence.

Prebiotics are substances that feed the beneficial microbes in the gut. When someone's gut is out of balance, taking prebiotics may initially cause a worsening of digestive symptoms. This varies with the individual and the type of prebiotic used. If this does not let up by lowering the dose, the underlying gut imbalance needs to be addressed.

The goal is to include the widest range of prebiotics possible in the diet in order to feed the widest range of beneficial gut micro-organisms. The best way to do this is to include a diet high in fruits and vegetables including root vegetables, nuts and seeds; include also properly prepared grains and legumes if tolerated. In addition to a diet high in these plant foods, you may want to include some particular supplemental sources of prebiotics as listed below. Keep the range of prebiotics as wide as possible. If you are having trouble with any of these additions to your diet, it may indicate an underlying gut imbalance that needs to be addressed.

The most common types of Prebiotics include soluble fiber, inulin, beta-glucan, and resistant starch.

Soluble fiber is found in abundance in fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, grains and legumes. Some of the best sources of soluble fiber include include flax seeds, peas, beans, lentils, berries, citrus peel, brussels sprouts, avocadoes, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and oats. Supplemental sources of soluble fiber includes things like psyllium husk, acacia gum, partially hydrolyzed guar gum, glucomamman and citrus pectin.

Inulin is found in high levels in certain root vegetables such as jersusalem artichokes, burdock and the onion family (leeks, onions and garlic). It is also found in the chicory family (endive and dandelion), asparagus, oats and some legumes. A common supplemental form of inulin is FOS or fructo-oligosaccharides.

Resistant starch is found in raw potatoes, raw green bananas and green plantain or “cooked and cooled” potatoes, oats, yams, cassava, peas, legumes and rice. Supplemental sources include unmodified potato starch, or the flour made from green plantains or green bananas.

Beta-glucan is found primarily in mushroom, seaweed and oats.

Polyphenol and flavonoids found in various berries, grapes and other plant foods are considered prebiotics, as are a few unusual categories of foods. These include things glycans and glycolipids found in collagen, cartilage and gelatin; and chitin/chitosan found in insects, worms, fungi and yeast.

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