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What to Eat for a Healthy Digestive System

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Prebiotics: Food for Your Flora
Prebiotics are the "food" for the good bacteria that help them grow more strongly. A good prebiotic food substance:
  • does not digest in the stomach or small intestine
  • can be readily used by the bacteria once it reaches the large intestine and
  • can only be used by the good bacteria (not the harmful ones) 
While some prebiotics are found in familiar types of fiber; others are less common. However all types of prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that stimulate the growth of good bacteria.  

The scientific names that are often used to identify prebiotics (and that you might see on some food labels) include:
  • Inulin
  • Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)
  • Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS)
  • Xylo-oligosaccharides
  • Polydextrose
  • Arabinogalactan
  • Polyols--laculose, lactitol 
Different combinations of these prebiotics occur naturally in many plant-based foods such as:
  • Leeks--Try cooking with leeks.
  • Asparagus--Discover new asparagus recipes.
  • Chicory--You can actually cook with this unusual root
  • Jersusalm artichokes--Also known as the sunchoke, this root veggie is delicious in many recipes.
  • Garlic--Discover why you should be adding more garlic to your cooking.
  • Artichokes
  • Bananas
  • Plums
  • Raisins
  • Onions--Lean more about what makes onions such a healthy vegetable.
  • Wheat
  • Whole grains--Discover easy ways to add more whole grains to your diet.
  • Oats--Find new ways to enjoy this healthy breakfast treat.
  • Honey--Learn why honey is a sweet choice you can feel good about.
  • Soybeans--Called edamame when they're young, these delicious beans are super versatile. 
It would take a large quantity of the above foods to exert a useful prebiotic effect in their natural state. Therefore, within today's food environment, a more realistic method involves fortifying popular foods with defined amounts of prebiotics. Inulin (a type of FOS) found in chicory root (the best natural source) has been found to be a very beneficial prebiotic. It is extracted from chicory root and added to foods and beverages, such as yogurts, cereals, breads, nutrition bars, ice-creams and frozen desserts, spreads, drinks and fortified water. 
Although benefits associated with prebiotics and probiotics are favorable, researchers are cautious about drawing firm conclusions because benefits vary, depending on type and amount of probiotic and prebiotic consumed. More human studies need to be done to provide a better understanding of their direct effect on health. For now, consuming foods that add good bacteria to your body (with probiotics) and keeping those bacteria happy once they're there (with prebiotics) is a great way to obtain the health benefit.

This article has been reviewed and approved by Becky Hand, M.Ed., Licensed and Registered Dietitian. 
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About The Author

Megan Patrick Megan Patrick
Megan Lane Patrick has been a professional writer and editor for the past 16 years, and was a chronic dieter for at least 30. A combination of weight-loss surgery, mindful eating and daily exercise finally allowed her to maintain a weight loss of more than 100 pounds. When she's not lifting weights at the gym, you can find her walking shelter dogs as a volunteer for the SPCA.

Member Comments

    Pretty basic information - sort of "everyone knows that". Warning though - these foods can not be "blamed" in and of themselves. It is overeating them that is the real issue.
    Also be very careful on the probiotics. Who makes them and how are they stored - you could be wasting your money. - 10/18/2015 3:15:13 PM
    If you are on medications, make sure your doctor checks out whether you can eat any of this touted stuff! This stuff can render your medication to be useless!! Don't just eat this stuff because some one suggests it!! Think people, check it out. - 10/18/2015 7:48:53 AM
  • I love yogurt and eat it every day. My favorite is Fage 0% fat-free plain Greek yogurt. No artificial ingredients or fillers, just skim milk and live yogurt cultures.

    I don't eat any soy-based foods. Certain types of breast cancer respond to the phytochemicals in soy.

    Olives might be good for you, but they contain a lot of sodium. If that's an issue, you might want to skip them.

    Some people have an unpleasant reaction to inulin/chicory root that is used to increase fiber in some foods - even yogurt. It can cause bloating, gas, stomach pain and diarrhea.

    So, look at your own health issues before deciding on jumping onto any food/supplement bandwagon. - 9/5/2015 4:03:09 PM
  • For the person looking for yogurt without gelatin, try Nancy's. They have cottage cheese, kefir & soy yogurts too. We're lucky enough to have had them manufactured locally since the 70's. No gelatin, no rennet. Made in Oregon.

    It's hard to find in the big corporate brands, but look for local or organic ones. Good luck! - 8/13/2015 5:26:09 AM
  • thank you for the information. I have barrets esophagus and heartburn gerd a lot. I will check with dr. on which pro and pre biotics are best for me. - 5/4/2015 12:27:39 PM
  • Very good info here, thank you! I've never heard much about prebiotics, how you can't digest it and the bad bacteria doesn't eat it. It sounds important though, there's probably supplements you can take with them. I love to eat kefir, because it's so easy, you just drink it. And I'm a vegetarian, so it is very difficult for me to get yogurt without gelatin. It's just a huge struggle, that I've given up on finding a brand without gelatin. I'm serious about being a vegetarian, and won't compromise. I put kefir in a shake for lunch. - 2/23/2015 6:24:26 PM
  • I LOOOVE sauerkraut. Just like CAT-IN-CJ's comment above, I'm also not crazy about milk-based; not because they're not delicious but because the companies add hidden sugar and man-made products created in labs. I'll generally go for artisan raw or un-pasturized cheeses and butter. I'm from Montreal and such products are available almost everywhere now as the demand is growing big time.YouTube is also FILLED with how to ferment your own veggies. Easy peasy and so fantastic for the gut! - 7/24/2014 11:50:02 AM
  • BEANER310
    I want to thank Sparkpeople for the wonderful Goodbelly 21 day program. I have been looking for 2 months for info on what to eat since discovering that I need the gerd diet. This is the only place that I have found comprehensive, useful and usable info. And the fact that it is fed to you step by step through daily e-mails, makes it so much easier to implement. I can't express what a difference this has made for my health and well being. I'm not a religious person, but God bless you Sparkpeople!!! - 1/31/2014 1:29:12 PM
  • Good article. I don't care much for the milk-based sources but I do love kombucha. I began making it at home last year . . . it's simple to do and a lot less expensive and better quality than what I found in the stores.

    Also, remember, we can do all the good stuff the right way but if our energy has been blocked, we won't reap as great a benefit. I was amazed at the benefit I received from acupuncture. - 1/8/2014 11:41:15 AM

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