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    Ask the Chef: What are prebiotics?

    By Julie Morris, Navitas Organics Executive Chef | November 30, 2015

    I've heard of probiotics, but what are prebiotics?

    By now, many of us are familiar with probiotics -- a type of beneficial bacteria that keep the digestive system functioning well by controlling the growth of harmful bacteria. Research has also shown that probiotics can help maintain a healthy immune system, making them a must-have preventative addition for cold and flu season. Here are some probiotic-rich foods:

    • Yogurt made with any variety of milk
    • Tempeh
    • Sauerkraut
    • Miso soup
    • Kombucha
    • Kimchi
    • Poi
    • Kefir

    Prebiotics are essentially “food†for probiotics. Medical researchers have defined prebiotics as “non-digestible food ingredients which selectively stimulate the growth or activities, or both, of lactobacilli or bifidobacteria in the colon, thereby improving health.†In other words, prebiotics help probiotics effective do their job by selectively stimulating the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Plus, not only can prebiotics improve gastrointestinal health, they've also shown promise in improving calcium absorption and helping the body resist infection as well. It's good to note that unlike probiotics, prebiotics aren't destroyed by heat, acid, or bacteria in the body, making them very easy to incorporate into the diet. Here are some prebiotic rich foods:

    • Onions
    • Garlic
    • Leeks
    • Yacon
    • Chicory root
    • Jerusalem artichoke
    • Dandelion greens

    In this list, unlike other types of fruits and vegetables, yacon truly stands out thanks to its saturation of a rare category of sugars called fructans. Fructans are long chain fiber molecules, so they can survive the journey through the digestive tract still intact and make their way to the gut to nourish it. Very few plants contain a significant amount of fructans, but yacon has nearly 40 percent of these complex sugars (In comparison, Jerusalem artichoke and chicory root have between 20 and 40 percent, and onions, garlic, and leeks have about 5 to 10 percent.) There is good reason why yacon has been a Peruvian staple superfoods for hundreds of years!

    As if we didn't mention enough “biotic†nutrition terms for one day, I'll throw one more out there: synbiotics. This is the practice of taking probiotics together with prebiotics to get the maximum health benefits (makes sense, right?). Medical research has shown that this is the most synergistic way to get the most out of the healthy bacteria in your body. When taken together, probiotics and prebiotics can deactivate toxic components in the digestive system and throughout the body, which can lead to all sorts of illnesses and diseases. Practicing synbiotics is as easy as combining some of the foods you already eat! Try drizzling yacon syrup on yogurt, soaking yacon slices in miso soup, or sautéing onions and including them in a dark green salad that includes tempeh and sauerkraut … your digestion, immune system, and taste buds will thank you for it!