Yes! They’re the food that we feed our probiotics, the friendly gut microbes that are oh so important for good health.
Our gut microbes are alive, and they need to eat too. Their favourite foods are called “prebiotics” and include dietary fiber and resistant starch. The same fiber that keeps us feeling full slows down digestion and provides roughage that keeps us regular. Resistant starch helps promote healthy blood lipids. Both types of prebiotics (fiber and resistant starch) are linked with many health benefits.
Technically-speaking, a prebiotic has three qualities:
It needs to be undigested and reach the colon intact;
It needs to be digested by our gut microbes; and,
It needs to stimulate our health-promoting good gut microbes.
Now that we know what prebiotics are let’s dive into their health benefits.
Health benefits of prebiotics
Prebiotic fiber helps keep us regular by bulking up our poop. It gives it substance and form, so it’s not too runny or liquid. In fact, more fiber is often recommended to help with symptoms of diarrhea. Prebiotic fiber used to be thought of like a broom that sweeps food through our guts, but we’re learning more about its health benefits beyond this role.
For example, prebiotics can also help to maintain normal bowel structure and function, and even enhance blood flow to the cells of the colon.
Those are some of the health benefits of prebiotics themselves. But we get even more health benefits when our friendly gut microbes eat and digest them.
For one thing, our gut microbes use prebiotics to make short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs (e.g., butyrate) can feed the cells of our colon to keep them healthy. SCFAs also inhibit the growth of bad gut microbes, and can even increase mineral (e.g., calcium and magnesium) absorption. These effects are all linked to the slight acidity caused by the acids in those SCFAs.
Dietary fiber also binds to healthful phytonutrients (phyto = plant). These phytonutrients are lost when the fiber is removed from the food. But, when we eat the prebiotic fiber, our gut microbes release these phytonutrients so we can absorb and use them.
Where to get prebiotics
Dietary fiber and resistant starch are the main sources of prebiotics.
Prebiotic fiber is found mostly in plants; both fruits and vegetables.
Resistant starch is any starch (a type of carbohydrate) that goes through most of our digestive tract without being digested. It’s not broken down by our digestive enzymes because it’s “resistant”... until it gets to our gut microbes in the colon. Resistant starch is found in starchy foods like whole grains and potatoes.
One of the big differences between fiber and resistant starch is that all of the fiber we eat is undigestible. All of it reaches our colons. Resistant starch, on the other hand, is just a small percent of the starch we eat. Most starch is digested and absorbed along our digestive tract, and that part is not considered to be prebiotic. Only the small amount of starch that is resistant to digestion and makes it down to the colon to feed our probiotics is prebiotic.
Prebiotic fiber is found in fibrous fruits and vegetables. It’s essentially what’s removed when we make juice - the pulp. It’s one of the reasons why eating whole fruits and vegetables is more healthful than replacing them with juice.
Here are some great sources of dietary fiber:
Resistant starch is found in:
Whole grains (e.g. oats)
Starches can be made resistant by cooking and cooling these foods before eating them. The cooling process allows the starches to re-shape themselves into a structure that is harder to digest (i.e., more resistant).
Prebiotics are fiber and resistant starches that feed our gut microbes. And when we feed our gut microbes, they help keep our gut healthy and have other health benefits too.
Do you ever juice your amazingly healthy fruits and vegetables and have a ton of leftover pulp? What do you do with it? I have a great recipe for using that oh so healthy prebiotic fiber in a delicious way.
Recipe (Juice pulp): Brownies
¾ cup cocoa powder, unsweetened (prebiotic)
3 tbsp coconut flour (prebiotic)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 cups juice pulp, firmly packed (prebiotic)
½ cup coconut oil, melted
½ cup maple syrup
Preheat oven to 350F. Line an 8”x8” baking tray with parchment paper.
Add cocoa powder, coconut flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt to a large bowl. Stir to combine.
Whisk eggs, pulp, oil and maple syrup.
Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to combine well. Use a spatula to scrape the batter into the baking dish.
Bake for 30 mins until the top is firm and edges just start to pull away from the dish.
Allow the brownies to cool.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: I like to blend the wet ingredients in my blender to make cleanup easier.
So much of health is all about habits and actions, but where do these all stem from? What if we don’t have to make as many changes as we think we do? What if there was one powerful thing that makes a lot of difference?
That thing is mindset.
Mindset is sometimes called “the story we tell ourselves.” It’s our attitude toward things in our life. And we have control over our mindset.
And research is showing that it may be far more powerful than we thought.
Here’s a quick story about a fascinating study.
Researchers at Stanford University looked at a bunch of people's health and wellness lifestyle habits, as well as health markers.
What they found was that the people who thought they were a lot less active had a higher risk of death than the general public. And, they also had up to 71% higher risk of death than people who thought they were more active. Even if they actually weren't less active!
How is this even possible that people who simply thought they were less active had higher risks, even if it wasn’t true?
There are a couple of ideas why. One is that maybe if we feel like we're less active, it may make us feel more stressed. And stress isn't good for our mental or physical health. Second, there may be a bit of a mind-body connection where the body embodies what the mind visualizes. Researchers don't know why, but what matters is that there is a good mindset. So, let me give you a couple of strategies to boost your mindset for health.
Health mindset strategy 1 - Aim for good enough.
Almost no one eats perfectly seven days a week. It's inevitable that obsessing over the quality and quantity of everything we eat or drink isn't necessarily a great mindset to have.
It can bring on binging, shame, and guilt - none of these are great ways to get healthy. We want to get healthier by making better choices and building better habits. And these are usually best done incrementally - one step at a time.
So, instead of having a black and white approach where everything is good or bad, why not try aiming for good enough to empower ourselves to make better choices, instead of perfect choices.
Health mindset strategy 2 - Stop making tradeoffs
When you try to earn a gluttonous weekend by eating clean during the week, you're making a tradeoff. You're telling yourself that, as long as you're good most of the week, you can go wild on the weekend.
And that's not awesome because the mindset is jumping from one extreme to the other. You're controlling what you do all week, and possibly thinking about how to indulge over the weekend. Just live as though you're trying to do well every single day. Like you care about your health and wellness. You're doing your best, and that's good enough.
Mindset for health can be a powerful tool for better physical health. There’s a proven mind-body connection that research can measure.
Thinking positively, and dropping the black/white and good/bad labels, can help you reach your health goals.
How is your mindset for health? Which of these tips resonate with you the most? How are you going to implement them in your life? Let me know in the comments below.
Recipe (Morning mindset refresher): Chia Lemon Water
1 tbsp chia seeds
½ lemon, sliced
Add the chia seeds & lemon to your favourite water bottle. Fill to top with water.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Shake before drinking.
If you search online, you’ll probably find a multitude of resources telling you that a good morning routine is important. I'm not here to argue whether you should or should not have a morning routine. However, the way you wake up in the morning can set the tone for the rest of your day. In this post, I want to explain the importance of moving your body in the morning.
The challenge of moving in the morning
The most difficult part of waking up in the morning is getting out of bed. Beds are a comfortable place to be. In the winter, they are warm. We are in a lying position. Why would anyone want to move?
At the same time, our metabolism is at it’s lowest point. We haven’t eaten for hours. It is not easy to set our body in motion after being in a state of rest the night before.
Motion creates energy
The sooner we can get moving, the sooner we can speed up our metabolism and get our energy levels up for the day. When our metabolism is moving faster, we can think better and be more alert and get our day started.
How do we get moving in the morning?
As Newton law says, a body at rest will stay at rest until a force is acted upon it. We need a force to make our bodies start moving in the morning.
When I was a kid my Mom would come into my room and pull the covers off my bed. That was quite an annoying start but it me moving. My guess is most adults don’t have a mom or anyone else to pull off your covers every morning. You’ll have to get creative with how you get yourself moving but I have a few ideas that may help get you started.
1. Drink water before you go to bed. Drinking water before you go to bed means you will have to get up and go when you wake up.
2. Move your alarm clock across the room. Keep your alarm clock out of arms reach so that you will need to get up to turn it off.
3. Give yourself something to do in the morning. Have a time sensitive task that you need to complete in the morning. This will motivate you to get up and get it done in the morning.
No matter what you decide to try to get yourself moving, remember that getting going is the key.