Let’s Talk Food: Prebiotic foods

We have all heard of probiotic foods — those foods that have live cultures or bacteria such as yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha and sourdough bread. But have you heard of prebiotic foods? They are the nondigestible carbohydrates that feed the good bacteria in our guts.

A 2012 study found that a diet high in prebiotics reduced the risk of developing colorectal cancer, increased calcium absorption and might improve bone density. There are other theories that high intake of prebiotics might help reduce allergies, improve glucose fat metabolism, reduce insulin resistance, protect against infection and reduce your appetite.


According to a recent article in Cuisine At Home magazine, our digestive system starts in our mouth and ends in our butt, with a “vast ecosystem of microbes that affect your physiology, keeping your body and brain functioning as they should.”

The three gut defenders are fiber, probiotics and prebiotics.

Fiber includes the fruits, vegetables and whole grains that promote colon health, and a variety of dietary fiber everyday is important to help our body function well. Probiotics, such as tempeh, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles, aged cheese and kimchi, are the “good bacteria that help us digest food, absorb nutrients and keep the ‘bad’ microbes from taking over.” Prebiotics, or barley, Jerusalem artichokes, onions and garlic, “go through the small intestine undigested and are fermented when they reach the large colon. This process helps to increase the number of desirable bacteria in our gut.”

Besides the barley, Jerusalem artichoke or sunchokes, onions and garlic mentioned above as prebiotics, bananas that are not fully ripe, asparagus that is steamed but still crunchy, raw dandelion greens, leeks, chicory root, honey and whole oats are other foods that are good for our guts.

Prebiotics come in different categories: fructooligosaccharides, or FOS; inulin; polydextrose; polyols; and oligofructose. All of these prebiotic categories resist digestion and selectively feed healthy bacteria in the gut.

Foods rich in FOS are bananas, onions, jicama, leeks, barley and wheat. Too much FOS, however, can cause cramps, nausea, bloating, gas and diarrhea.

Inulin rich foods include asparagus, bananas, burdock root, chicory, dandelion greens, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks and onions. Side effects of inulin are bloating, abdominal cramping, loose stools, gas and more frequent bowel movements.

Polydextrose is a synthetic sweetener invented by Pfizer. It was approved as a food additive by the FDA in 1981. It replaces sugar and fat in low-calorie foods such as salad dressing, baked goods and ice cream. It provides bulk, texture, mouth feel and preservative qualities of the sugar and fat it replaces. It provides fiber and is a prebiotic, helping our gut flora, if consumed in moderation.

Foods that naturally have polyols include stone fruits such as cherries, peaches and plums, as well as mushrooms, cauliflower, pears and green beans.

Foods with oligofructose include wheat, onions, garlic, bananas, Jerusalem artichoke, leeks, chicory roots and jicama.

Here is a recipe with many prebiotic foods:

Barley and Chicken Bowls

Cuisine At Home

Serves: 4

For barley:

1 cup pearled barley

For pickled onions:


1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1 cup thinly sliced red onions

For the vegetables:


8 ounces carrots, trimmed, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut on the bias into 2-inch pieces

8 ounces Jerusalem artichokes, sliced

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

8 ounces broccolini, trimmed

For the dressing:


1 cup plain whole milk kefir

2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Beau Monde seasoning

1 teaspoon minced fresh garlic

1 teaspoon cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dried dill

1/2 teaspoon celery seeds

Black pepper to taste

For the bowls:


1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and sliced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

For the barley, cook according to package directions.

For the pickled onions, whisk sugar and salt into vinegar until dissolved. Toss in onions, let pickle at least 15 minutes.

For the vegetables, toss carrots and Jerusalem artichokes with 2 tablespoons oil, season with salt and pepper. Spread into a single layer on a prepared baking sheet and roast until fork tender, about 20 minutes. Toss broccolini with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, season with salt and pepper, then spread into a single layer on second prepared baking sheet, roast 10-12 minutes.

For the dressing, whisk together kefir, chives, Dijon, Beau Monde seasoning, garlic, vinegar, dill and celery seeds, season with pepper.

For the bowls, divide barley, chicken, vegetables, and pickled onions among four bowls, serve with dressing.

Foodie bites

• The culinary students are back and Hawaii Community College’s Cafeteria is open from 10:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Call 934-2559 for takeout orders and desserts of the day. Poke bowls and chirashi bowls also will be on the menu when fresh fish is available. The short order menu is available from 9 a.m. and has a variety of loco moco, burgers, large and small bentos and Spam and teri Spam musubi.


Call 934-2559 to place your orders.

Email Audrey Wilson at audreywilson808@gmail.com.

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