Feed Your Gut

Woman stands with hands on stomach

Healthy whole grains maximize the power of probiotics

You have more than 1,000 types of bacteria living in your gut, helping you digest your food and stay healthy. But are you making sure they are strong and ready to do their best work? 

You've probably heard that it's important to eat probiotic-rich foods, like yogurt or kombucha. This is true. But to really impact your gut health, probiotics are just a start. You need prebiotics too! 

What's the difference? 

Probiotics help you add more good bacteria to your system. But prebiotics are the key to making sure your good bacteria are healthy, thriving, and working for you. 

"Prebiotics help you create bacteria yourself and feed your own microbiome," says Dr. Robert Martindale. 

Robert Martindale, M.D., Ph.D., Chief of Gastrointestinal and General Surgery at OHSU, is an expert on clinical nutrition and does research on the gut microbiome. In 2005, he created OHSU's "probiotic protocol," requiring that every patient in the hospital taking antibiotics be served yogurt rich in probiotics. 

Since then, he has continued to uncover the links between our health and the health of the bacteria in our gut. We asked him to share what he has learned about prebiotics. 

What foods are good prebiotics? 

Prebiotics are found in whole grains. They are rich in fiber, which we are unable to digest, but which the bacteria living in our gut love. Common whole grains in the American diet include wheat, oats, brown rice and corn. But there are tons more options –try couscous, barley, chia, flaxseed, quinoa, sorghum or kasha. The list goes on and on! 

What are the benefits? 

When our gut bacteria eat prebiotics, they create short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs are used by gut cells, immune cells, the heart, and many other organs and cells to promote immune function and health. Studies are finding strong evidence that eating at least three servings of whole grain each day can reduce your risk for so many health problems. These include: 

  • Constipation
  • Inflammation
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Colon cancer and other cancers of the GI tract
  • Depression and anxiety 

There's a lot riding on your relationship with your gut bacteria. Dr. Martindale's advice? Eat your whole grains and your yogurt, too. If you keep your gut happy, it will do the same for you.