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Gut health elevates the produce department

Trillions and trillions! We’re not talking stars in the cosmos but bugs in your gut—including microbes like bacteria, fungi, viruses, and protozoa.

Did you know there’s more bacteria in the intestines than cells in the body? What do bugs in the gut have to do with fresh produce? A great deal, it turns out…

When we eat, we’re feeding ourselves and trillions of microbes. Some microbes are good, some are bad. The good bugs help digest food and extract needed nutrients the body needs; too many bad bugs can make us sick.

Besides affecting digestion, an imbalance in gut bacteria has been linked to a range of diseases from metabolic syndrome to autoimmune conditions. What we eat matters when it comes to keeping the good bacteria in charge, and fruits and vegetables can help substantially in this battle of good vs. bad.

Probiotics and Prebiotics
Thanks to increased media attention, consumers are learning about gut health, or the benefits of probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria, while prebiotics are food for the bacteria—nondigestible compounds found in the dietary plant fiber probiotics feast upon.

From traditional news outlets to social media influencers, people are talking about the gut and its impact on daily life.

“Gut health is really trending now,” said Valda Coryat, director of marketing for the National Mango Board. “It’s as big a deal as any of the prior health trends, as it’s drawing consumers’ attention to the role of digestion in their overall health and wellness routine.”

Probiotics are found in fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, kimchi, and brined olives, as well as fermented drinks like kefir and kombucha tea.

“There are many ways to ferment vegetables and fruit to add a dose of probiotics,” notes Kelly Atyeo-Fick, president of LiveWell Marketing in Mississauga, Ontario.

And these products aren’t hard to find: according to the International Probiotics Association, hundreds have been introduced in the last decade.

Sources of prebiotics include avocados, onions, asparagus, green bananas, plantains, dandelions, soybeans, lentils, chickpeas, green peas, lima beans, kidney beans, bamboo shoots, and starchy fruits and vegetables.

In addition to fiber, deeply colored fruits and vegetables like mangos, blueberries, and red onions, as well as nuts like pecans and almonds, are full of polyphenols, a micronutrient with a prebiotic effect.

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full version.