We all know the Mediterranean Diet is the healthiest way to eat. It’s so loaded with superfoods, it should wear a cape! Lifestyle & Health Correspondent Roula Marinos Papamihail, CHHC explains.
Mediterranean Diet a win for health
Everyone knows the Mediterranean diet is a win for improving our health. This way of eating is well-known for its heart healthy fats, antioxidant rich foods, phytonutrient-rich plant-based recipes, and simplicity in nature. Most, however, do not know that the Mediterranean diet also rich in prebiotic and probiotic foods, which are a must for optimal health.
Mediterranean Diet influences immunity
The research about the influence of our microbiome on our overall health is mounting. With an estimated 70% of our immune system residing in our gut, it’s safe to say that adding in foods to our diet that are high in BOTH prebiotics and probiotics is a must for not only optimal digestion but optimal health as well.
Many people are aware by now that foods containing high amounts of probiotics have a long list of health benefits. Prebiotics on the other hand, have not received as much attention. They are, however, just as important!
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics literally help feed probiotics while promoting a reduction in disease-causing bacteria (1) and are found in plant fibers. They are a type of non-digestible soluble and insoluble fibers that pass through the small intestine, reach the colon where they ferment and feed our gut microflora; probiotics (2).
Once upon a time, research referred to all fiber as “fiber”, but today a whole different set of chemical compounds has been identified and referred to separately.
Soluble vs. insoluble fiber
Grossly simplified when it comes to differentiating fibers, soluble fiber, as the name suggests, dissolves easily in water and is the main source of food for the good bacteria found in our colon. Once they reach our colon they begin to ferment.
Insoluble fiber, doesn’t dissolve in water and can be further identified into two types: fermentable and non-fermentable.
Non-fermentable insoluble fiber is characterized primarily as a bulking agent, and consuming adequate amounts of insoluble fiber along with plenty of drinking water keeps us regular.
Fermentable insoluble fiber is referred to as resistant starch and serves the same purpose as soluble fiber; to feed the good bacteria in our gut by fermentation processes.
Plant fiber-based prebiotics play a fundamental role in preserving our health by maintaining balance and diversity of our intestinal bacteria, particularly by increasing the presence of specific “good bacteria.”
Pairing prebiotics and probiotics
Hundreds of strains of good bacteria have been identified (and continue to be identified) but two that have been discovered to specifically increase with an increase in prebiotic consumption are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria (2).
By specifically increasing the probiotic strain of lactobacilli through prebiotics, you can boost your overall immunity, improve your urinary tract health, prevent diarrhea and shrink cancerous tumors. An increase of the probiotic strain bifidobacteria, with the use of prebiotics, has been associated with efficacy in the prevention and treatment of intestinal infections, gastrointestinal cancers and carcinogenic activity of intestinal flora.
The evidence is clear. By making an active attempt in your diet to pair both prebiotics and probiotics together, you can make an even bigger impact on your health.
While this may seem overwhelming to some, keep in mind that the Mediterranean Diet intuitively and naturally encompasses a balanced combination of both prebiotic and probiotic foods making the addition and/or maintenance of prebiotic foods into your diet effortless and worry free.
Common Greek Foods Containing Prebiotics
Here are some “Greek” foods that are high in prebiotics.
Dandelion greens are extremely common in Greek cuisine and are not only known for their abundant health benefits, but also contain high amounts of prebiotics. Paired frequently with protein sources (like meat) their prebiotic properties not only enhance the absorption process of essential minerals (1), but also provide the food needed by our colons bacteria for optimal probiotic growth.
TIP: Overcooking dandelion greens destroys much of the prebiotic fibers. It’s best to lightly sauté and or boil dandelions to keep their prebiotic effectiveness intact.
Figs are not only a staple in the Greek diet, they’re high in potassium and calcium, and very high in prebiotics. They can help combat sugar cravings, too. The fig has been held in high esteem for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks even created laws forbidding the export of its best quality figs. While dried figs are a lot more common than fresh figs (due to their scarcity and fragility), adding either kind to your diet is a delicious way to boost prebiotic levels. It also serves as a functional food as well.
TIP: Know your source. To extend shelf life, many commercially-grown dried figs may be treated with sulfur-containing compounds during processing. These compounds have been linked to adverse health reactions. Research production processes, and choose organic.
Another common leafy green in Greek cuisine is chicory (radiki). Chicory (and/or chicory root) is one of the best-known sources of prebiotics. It has a multitude of additional health benefits. Chicory is specifically high in FOS and inulin, two types of prebiotics (1). FOS has been shown to lower serum triglyceride levels and insulin levels and while the majority of chicory’s prebiotic health benefits are found in the root, acquiring your chicory straight or as close to the source as possible (local farmers market and/or picking from an open field or backyard) will help you to preserve and still benefit from its prebiotic qualities.
TIP: Prebiotics reduces stress. A recent study found that women who were given prebiotic supplements every morning for three weeks displayed a lower level of cortisol than when they started. Lower cortisol means lower stress; another great reason to incorporate chicory or other prebiotic-rich foods in your diet.
Artichoke is another common Greek food. It’s also a top source of prebiotics. (1) Many Greek dishes incorporate the prebiotic-loaded plant. Think braised artichoke with lemon and olive oil, roasted artichoke and potatoes, artichokes with avgolemono (egg lemon sauce), and artichokes with eggs.
Artichokes help detoxify and regenerate liver tissues, stimulate the gall bladder, reduce blood lipids and serum cholesterol, and lower blood sugar (3). It’s also one of the top sources of FOS and inulin. (1)
TIP: Some people experience gas and bloating when increasing prebiotic intake, but these symptoms usually dissipate after a week or so. If they do occur, cut back a bit and then increase accordingly.
There are many more
And the list goes on! Staples like onions, garlic, leeks, and raw honey are super foods commonly found in the Mediterranean diet, are prebiotic-rich superfoods. Eat them regularly to feed the healthy bacteria in your gut. This allows for optimal gut health, overall health, and vitality.
Once again, the Mediterranean Diet truly seems to be one of the best types of diets to not only follow, but to live by!
The physician treats but nature heals. ~Hippocrates
- Digestive Wellness. Strengthen the Immune System and Prevent Disease through Healthy Digestion. Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D., CCN, CHN.
- Eat Dirt. Why Leaky Gut May Be the Root Cause of Your Health Problems and 5 Surprising Steps to Cure it. Dr. Josh Axe.
- Encyclopedia of Herbs. The definitive guide to the identification, cultivation, and the uses of herbs. Deni Brown.
Stay tuned for next post on probiotic-rich foods found in the Mediterranean Diet/Greek cuisine.
Want to learn more about Greek dishes, they’re superfood powers, and how to prepare them in the most optimally healthful ways? Download your FREE copy of the Optimal Greek.
More from Roula Marinos Papamhail, CHHC
She trained at Functional Diagnostic Nutrition, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. and holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology from the University of Indianapolis. She’s also the proud mom of 4 little boys. Roula is currently accepting new clients in her office, at home, over the phone, or via Skype. Visit her website at www.myhealthysoma.com.