Inulin not to be confused with Insulin

In the interest of feeding a “healthy gut” there are two basic ingredients:  probiotics and prebiotics.

Probiotics are generally fermented foods containing live cultures that promote healthy digestions and will be the subject of a future post.

Today I am focusing on prebiotics, the fermentable fiber that feeds the organisms in you lower GI tract. Typically, prebiotics are carbohydrates (such as oligosaccharides), but the definition may include non-carbohydrates. The most prevalent forms of prebiotics are nutritionally classed as soluble fiber. To some extent, many forms of dietary fiber exhibit some level of prebiotic effect.

Traditional dietary sources of prebiotics include soybeans, inulin sources (such as Jerusalem artichoke, jicama, and chicory root), raw oats, unrefined wheat, unrefined barley and yacon. Some of the oligosaccharides that naturally occur in breast milk are believed to play an important role in the development of a healthy immune system in infants.

It is becoming more common to properly distinguish between prebiotic substances and the food that contains them. References to almonds, honey and other foods (most commonly in promotional materials from growers of those foods) as “a prebiotic” are not accurate. No plant or food is a prebiotic: Wheat, honey and many other foods contain prebiotics to a greater or lesser extent, ranging from fairly large portions (chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke) to only trace quantities (thousands of other plant-based foods). Referring to a food as “a prebiotic” is no more accurate than calling a food “a vitamin.”

To that end we will focus a bit on Inulin:

Inulin is a carbohydrate that is tough enough to escape digestion in the stomach which leaves it’s sugar available to the bacteria in the colon. For this reason it is considered a prebiotic, it ferments in the gut and feeds the microorganisms. Some traditional diets contain over 20 g per day of inulin or fructooligosaccharides. The diet of the prehistoric hunter-forager in the Chihuahuan Desert has been estimated to include 135 g per day of inulin-type fructans. Many foods naturally high in inulin or fructooligosaccharides, such as chicory, garlic, and leek, have been seen as “stimulants of good health” for centuries.

Top 10 Foods Containing Prebiotics

Food Prebiotic Fiber Content by Weight
Raw Chicory Root 64.6%
Raw Jerusalem Artichoke 31.5%
Raw Dandelion Greens 24.3%
Raw Garlic 17.5%
Raw Leek 11.7%
Raw Onion 8.6%
Cooked Onion 5%
Raw Asparagus 5%
Raw Wheat bran 5%
Whole Wheat flour, Cooked 4.8%
Raw Banana 1%

While there is no broad consensus on an ideal daily serving of prebiotics, recommendations typically range from 4-8g for general digestive health support, to 15g or more for those with active digestive disorders (leaky gut, recent antibiotic use). Given an average 6g serving, below are the amounts of prebiotic foods required to achieve a daily serving of prebiotic fiber:

Food Amount of food to achieve 6g serving of prebiotics
Raw Chicory Root 9.3g (about 1/3 oz)
Raw Jerusalem Artichoke 19g (about 3/4 oz)
Raw Dandelion Greens 24.7g (just under 1 oz)
Raw Garlic 34.3 g (about 1.2 oz)
Raw Leek 51.3g (about 1.8 oz)
Raw Onion 69.8g (about 2.5 oz)
Cooked Onion 120g (about 1/4 lb)
Raw Asparagus 120g (about 1/4 lb)
Raw Wheat Bran 120g (about 1/4 lb)
Whole Wheat Flour, Cooked 125g (about 1/4 lb)
Raw Banana 600g (about 1.3 lb)

So how do you manage to get 19g of raw Jerusalem Artichoke on board? Check out THIS recipe.

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