Ninety (90)% of the cells in us and on us are NOT human. Now we don’t have alien DNA in us (sorry Scientologists) but we do have foreigners inhabiting our body. We call this collection of 100 trillion organisms of bacteria and fungus the microbiome. The microbiome consists of beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and pathogenic ones (the disease-makers). Ideally you should have a preponderance of the former. Well, if you don’t, prebiotics to the rescue!
If you read my former article on probiotics, it enumerates a myriad of reasons as to why having good gut health increases your chances of optimal health. Our immune system, mood, GI health, maintenance of a healthy weight, and heart health are all intimately connected to it. 80% of your immune system resides in the gut. Having a overabundance of pathogenic bacteria (C-Diff anyone) can lead to IBS, “leaky guy syndrome,” colitis and other GI maladies. (Now I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t be too keen on having a fecal transplant done to me. LOL)
In my former article, I mentioned two main ways exists as to how to strengthen your microbiome. One is eating a lot of fermented foods, which contain probiotic bacteria. This list, by no means exhaustive, would include refrigerated sauerkraut (and kimchi), kombucha, Greek yogurt, and some forms of cheese and chocolate. Ingestion of these foods certainly cannot hurt your microbiome (especially when taking an antibiotic, which I anecdotally call the Atomic bomb of probiotics), but it is not the ideal way. While Greek yogurt might have 40,000,000 bugs in it that is a drop in the bucket compared to the 100,000,000,000 in the body. So we need to find a way to make the endogenous bacteria and fungus grow naturally.
Introducing…prebiotics!! By elevating your intake of prebiotic foods your gut health, and thus your overall health should improve. Prebiotics are the foods which allow our prebiotic bacteria to flourish and grow at a faster rate than the pathogenic ones. And unlike other carb-laden foods, many of these don’t spike your insulin which if done chronically leads to fat storage, hormonal imbalance, and general inflammation.
So let’s review some prebiotic foods:
Garlic (regular or pills)
Make a concerted effort to consume these vegetables. But to get the most bang for your buck you should go for the more concentrated sources of prebiotics. The best sources are resistant starches.
Resistant starches are the crème de la crème of prebiotic foods. Why? Unlike regular starchy foods, like potatoes, rice, etc., resistant starches are indigestible and thus cannot be converted into glucose. Upon ingestion they go straight through the G.I. tract to your small intestines where the probiotic bacteria convert them into short chain fatty acids. Later they are converted into butyrate, which is the main fuel for your gut cells.
Other studies parrot the benefits of resistant starches. A diet high in resistant starches helps promote lower body fat, increases satiety and lean muscle mass and promotes better sleep. The best news about resistant starches is that unlike regular starchy foods it doesn’t initiate the insulin response. It is almost like eating starchy food with the negative results of it!
Now unlike blue corn (I love blue corn tortilla chips), which is actually different than yellow corn, green bananas are not a separate variety of bananas like plantains. They are simply unripe, regular old bananas. One of the benefits of green bananas is that they boast about ¼ the sugar of ripened ones. It also provides a plethora of resistant starch so if you can handle the difficult peeling off of these fruits, eat away!
Cooked-and-cooled potatoes, rice, and legumes.
Who doesn’t like mashed potatoes, rice, beans, lentils, and alike? Your body when their regular consumption triggers the insulin response. However, cooking these foods alters the chemical composition of them turning them from regular starch to resistant ones. Cook them and then refrigerate them. Now the idea of eating cold mashed potatoes might not be too palatable, you can develop a taste for them. Consider the overall long-term benefits when that first bite of cold mashed potatoes touches the taste buds.
Unmodified potato starch is the best way to introduce resistant starches into your diet. The body handles it well so find ways to incorporate it into your recipes. Also, plantain and green banana flours as well as tapioca starch work well. These might be difficult to find at your nearby grocery store so peruse the aisles of your local Whole Foods or farmer’s market.
In general most vegetables are naturally prebiotic in nature, so jokingly it is reason #23 to consume large amounts of them. If possible, though, target the aforementioned prebiotic foods. Green bananas cost the same as regular ones and rice and beans, albeit cold, are dirt cheap as well.
So you are at a fork in the road: prebiotic or probiotic. Both will vastly improve your health, especially if you have been consuming the Standard American Diet (SAD). Evolutionarily speaking though it is perhaps better to naturally allow your resident bugs to reproduce exponentially like bunnies by consuming prebiotic foods than consuming high quantity of fermented, probiotic foods. If money is no object, eat both!
A. Gregory Luna, double-certified health consultant.
(I would appreciate your comments below.)