Follow your gut to digestive health

Did you know that trillions of bacteria live in the body? Most are helpful; some aren’t. The term “microbiome” describes all the bacteria that live in your body, mostly in your digestive system. When you have more good than bad bacteria in your gut, you’re in healthy equilibrium.

Both probiotics and prebiotics contribute to digestive health. Probiotics are the healthy bacteria that live in the gut. Prebiotic fiber is the food that fuels the good bacteria, helping maintain a healthy digestive balance. It’s a synergistic relationship. Without prebiotics as fuel, probiotics would starve. With prebiotics, probiotics thrive.

“How much do I need?” “Where do I find pre- and probiotics at the store?” These are common questions I hear from shoppers. Read on to learn the answers.

Prebiotic fibers

While all fiber is important to feeling your best every day, only certain fibers are what we call prebiotics. Aim for about 5 grams of prebiotic fibers every day. Foods with prebiotic fiber include:

• Fruits and vegetables such as bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus and jicama. You’ll get the most prebiotic benefit if you eat them raw; if you do cook, choose steaming instead of boiling or roasting.

• Black, kidney, navy and garbanzo beans. Canned varieties are convenient and can easily be added to soups, stews and chili.

• Green, brown and red lentils. Once cooked, try adding to your kids’ mac and cheese or your favorite spaghetti sauce. Or puree and add to ground beef when making casseroles or mixed dishes like tacos or meat loaf.

• On days when you feel your prebiotic fiber intake is light, add a scoop to water, juice, or yogurt.

Probiotics

There is no “Daily Value” for probiotics because each strain is unique, and the beneficial dose varies. The best way to select a probiotic is to research those that are known to offer the health benefit you seek and the dose recommended. Generally, probiotics should be consumed daily in amounts exceeding one billion CFU. Look for these probiotic choices at grocery stores:

• Yogurts. On the label, look for the statement “live and active cultures” as an indicator that the product contains probiotics. Choose yogurts that are lower in sugar.

• Kefir. Often thought of as a drinkable yogurt, kefir has different types of probiotics than yogurt. It’s made by fermenting milk with a yeast and bacteria and can be found in our health markets.

• Kombucha. This is a fermented beverage made from green or black tea.

• Fermented vegetables. Selections such as fresh sauerkraut and kimchi can be added to sandwiches and tacos or used as a topping on pizzas or avocado toast. The brine can be used in salad dressings or even Bloody Marys!

• You can find probiotics, that offer the combined benefit of prebiotic fiber and probiotics per serving.

Including pre- and probiotics in your daily eating habits can help you feel the benefits of a healthy digestive system, which may include comfortable regularity, immune support, heart well-being, and potentially, help with mood.

Zoodles with Creamy Avocado Cilantro Sauce

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

2 large zucchini

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

For the avocado sauce:

1 clove garlic, crushed or minced

2 ripe avocados pitted, and peeled

Large handful of cilantro, about 1/2 cup loosely packed

2 tablespoon lemon juice

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Water as needed

4 scoops Regular Girl

Directions

• Cook zoodles according to package directions. Drain any excess water.

• While the zoodles are cooking, cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. Add the avocado to a blender along with the minced garlic, cilantro, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, water and Regular Girl.

• Blend until mixture is creamy, adding additional water until the sauce is at the desired consistency.

• Add the sauce to your zoodles. Toss with avocado sauce. Or chill! This dish is also delicious cold.

• Top with halved cherry tomatoes and parmesan cheese before serving.

Optional: For additional flavor, sauté zoodles with olive oil, garlic, mushrooms and red pepper flakes for a few minutes before adding the sauce. Zoodles tend to pick up the flavor of whatever they are cooked in.

Nutrition information (per serving): 270 calories, 22 g fat, 15 g monounsaturated fat, 4 g saturated fat, 22 g carbohydrate, 14 g fiber, 4 g protein, 310 mg sodium, 20 percent Daily Value for potassium, 70 percent Daily Value for vitamin C.

Claire Henning, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee

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