This week’s blog post is dedicated to Prebiotics – the unsung heroes of the Microbiome Diet.
We have already talked about the importance of the Microbiome Diet for your healthy Second Middle Age, and also the benefits of adding Probiotic foods to your daily diet to introduce greater microbial diversity.
There is a more to the Microbiome Diet, however, than just adding (delicious) fermented foods. Your body relies on the essential nutrients found in Prebiotics for effective care and feeding of our microbial fellow travelers. Prebiotics are vegetables, fruits and whole grains that provide important dietary fiber to support your digestive health and promote the continuing diversity of the Microbiome. Due to their concentration of dietary fiber, Prebiotic foods also play an important role in metabolism and overall health including regulation of blood sugar, serum cholesterol levels in the bloodstream, supporting weight management and promoting regularity.
Without getting overly technical, we now have reached a better understanding of the essential importance of Probiotics to promote human health:
During the metabolic process, that interdependent relationship exerts beneficial health effects to the host. For instance, probiotics selectively receive different prebiotics as nutrients from the host, initiate fermentation in the colon, provide the host with additional genetic and metabolic attributes, boost the immune system, and be able to harness nutrients that are otherwise inaccessible.
Getting your optimum daily requirement: most Americans fall short of the Prebiotic optimum daily requirement of 35 and 50 grams per day, based on the USDA Recommended Daily Allowances. (The RDA excludes prepared breakfast pastries, cereals, cookies, cakes and other processed foods.) Don’t let this happen to you; there are so many great vegetables, fruits and whole grains out there for you.
Prebiotic vegetables include salad vegetables and dark leafy greens like kale, cruciferous vegetables, like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, as well as peas, beans/legumes, tomatoes, lettuce, green beans, spring onions or leeks, cucumbers, sweet peppers, eggplant, okra, beets, and mushrooms. A salad is a nice civilized addition to any meal, and can even be the centerpiece of a really satisfying lunch or dinner.
If you make a habit of keeping track of the salad ingredients in your refrigerator – e.g,. 1 – 2 types of lettuce, cucumbers and carrots as a baseline – you too can have satisfying salads on demand. Another shortcut to good eating: when you make a salad, unless you include an extremely perishable ingredients like avocado, you can double the normal quantity and have it on hand for lunch the next day, or else for tomorrow’s dinner.
By adding whatever different items you want to the basic salad waiting for you in your refrigerator, you can make it convenient to eat right. For variety, add chickpeas, kidney beans or other legumes. In much of the world, beans and legumes are dietary staples that provide complete proteins and other essential nutrients in combination with whole grains. (1/2 cup cooked is a single serving.)
Also, salads can do double duty. Yesterday’s cut vegetable for topping a bean burrito or tostada can become the basis for a Mediterranean salad/antipasto plate with the addition of a few extra ingredients.
Just read the labels when it comes to salad dressings which may be high in added sweeteners, sugar and/or salt. (Delicious fresh ideas for healthy salad dressings coming soon to this space!)
There is no substitute for fresh fruit in terms of both fiber and nutritional content. Prepared processed fruit products and fruit juices are not equals to the real thing (more on processed foods next week). Peaches, cantaloupe, apricots, nectarines, watermelon and prunes are all good sources of vitamin A. Citrus fruit (including oranges and grapefruits), strawberries and watermelon are great sources of vitamin C. Bananas provide fiber and potassium, and dried fruits are an excellent source of iron. Mangoes, in season, are an almost unparalleled source of many important vitamins and are also high in fiber.
Like salad vegetables, you’ll find it much easier to eat more fruit if you plan ahead, keeping seasonally available fruit around the house pre-washed and prepped. It is great to try to eat 3 – 4 fruits each day (a good size banana counts as 2 fruits). If you are concerned that too much fruit may upset your digestive tract, start out slowly and see how it goes.
Sourdough whole grain foods combine the goodness of Probiotics and Prebiotics in one delicious package. I love all kinds of fermented wholegrain products, from Indian dosas (vegan crepes) to sourdough pancakes, English
and good old-fashioned sourdough rye bread. Looking beyond sourdough (yes, it is hard for me to get beyond sourdough …), whole grains may include whole grain breads, barley, brown rice, popcorn, bulgur (cracked wheat), and my all- time favorite old fashioned thick-cut oats for morning oatmeal. Generally speaking, a serving is 1/2 cup (cooked).
There is no end to the wonders of Prebiotics, both in terms of their importance for your Microbiome Diet as well as how good they will make you feel as you sail into your Second Middle Age. Don’t take my word for it; there is real science behind the benefits of Prebiotics for good health at any age: