By Megan Stevens | Published October 2016

Surprisingly, probiotics need to eat, too. While many of us have heard about the importance of probiotics in our diets or in supplement form, fewer have heard of prebiotics and their importance to our overall wellness.

Scientists of the human microbiome are fond of this fact: humans are 90 percent microflora!

So it stands to reason, if we feed that flora, we will be healthier.

Prebiotic foods include onions and leeks, when they are only lightly cooked. They include less-common vegetables like Jerusalem artichokes. They also include a whole group of foods, which we’ll discuss more, called resistant starches.

When probiotics consume prebiotics they produce butyrate. Butyrate is a short-chain fatty acid that is eaten by T-cells.

We want more T-cells! As we age, our bodies produce fewer. When T-cells eat, they multiply.

And it’s T-cells that fight inflammation, accurately recognizing antigens and creating a proper immune response instead of an autoimmune response. T-cells also provide a barrier of defense against pathogens, maintaining a proper flora balance in the gut.

In addition, T-cell regeneration is expected to lower the risk of colon cancer, globally the fourth most common form of cancer to result in death.

Put succinctly, if we consume prebiotic foods, we will be fighting disease more effectively, giving our bodies fuel for wellness.

What foods should we eat, besides lightly cooked onions and Jerusalem artichokes? They’re not all common foods or common food preparations. But the prebiotic cause is worth creating a few new dietary habits:

Chicory root, often found in herbal coffee blends, makes a great morning beverage

  • Sorghum, a gluten-free flour, can be used in baked goods
  • Dried dandelion leaf, which can be purchased from Mountain Rose Herbs, is easy to add to cooking, as you would basil or marjoram, but in the last minute or so of cooking to retain its benefits
  • Garlic, if it’s added at the end of cooking, so it stays partially raw, is a prebiotic food
  • Apple cider vinegar

What about foods that contain resistant starch? That’s the name given to these prebiotic foods because they resist being digested and thus become food for probiotics in the colon:

  • Green plantains and green bananas—not fried, but when dehydrated at low heat they make good chips. There are also powders from these fruits than can be conveniently added to smoothies.
  • Cassava flour: This grain-free flour is excellent for those on grain-free or gluten-free diets. Many recipes can be found online using this delicious flour.
  • Cooked and cooled potatoes, white rice, or beans: All of these staples gain their resistant starch when they cool. They can be reheated, too, and maintain their benefits.

Those who are afflicted by constipation may benefit from consuming prebiotic foods, too. The production of butyrate creates a healthier colon ecosystem. This flora balance is often what’s needed to restore regular bowel movements.

Also, any abundance of butyrate, up to a certain point, that isn’t consumed by T-cells moves into the bloodstream and benefits insulin levels and liver function.

However, for some sensitive individuals, prebiotic foods can cause gas and bloating. It is advised to start slowly when introducing these foods into your diet. If just a small amount of gas results, this is considered normal as your gut ecosystem adapts.

Within two weeks gas should subside and you can gradually increase your intake.

Megan Stevens blogs at eatbeautiful.net.