functional nutrition | Chicory and Dandelion Greens | McPeak Market

Credit: Adrian White

Digestion problems are becoming all too common in more and more people. Some of it has to do with diet choices, some with lower food quality these days— and some of it may be due to lack of prebiotic foods, probiotics, fiber-rich vegetables, digestive enzymes, and more.

Prebiotic and probiotic foods sound like complicated words or concepts. But in practice, they are just simple foods. All it takes to get more prebiotics and probiotics into your diet is to eat a few more healthy types of foods: especially digestive healers like chicory root along with your foods or supplements of choice for everything else. (Not to mention: It also helps to avoid gut harming and inflammation causing foods, like sugar!)

Are you dealing with issues like IBS, indigestion, or nutrient deficiencies? Has your doctor or nutritionist recommended probiotics and prebiotics to you? Here’s some tips, knowledge, recommendations, and facts on the digestive system to help get the digestive system in order and gut health back on track.

The digestive system fun facts

What goes into successful digestive health care at home? To get an idea, it helps to know a few digestive system fun facts.

#1: Care of the gut microbiome is important. This is possible with probiotic foods containing beneficial bacteria, like kombucha, live fermented pickles, kimchi, yogurt, kefir— or, if you have trouble getting enough of these foods, probiotic supplements are fantastic sources. These healthy microbes do a lot for digestion and the body. They help us assimilate nutrients, reduce inflammation (and not just in the gut), and protect against pathogens that could get us sick.

Owing to the gut to brain connection, microbes may also be essential to good mental health and a strong nervous system! Many nutrients that help keep down mild anxiety or depression naturally (especially B vitamins) are only absorbed with the help of gut bacteria.

#2: There’s perks to getting plenty of fiber. Besides tons of vitamins and minerals, fiber is why whole plant based diets are recommended for being so healthy: because plants of all kinds are high in fiber. This includes fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy grains, and mushrooms (which have tons of other health benefits, too!).

There are two types of fiber: insoluble fiber and soluble fiber. The first kind naturally soothes and “cleans” the gastrointestinal system, helps with the digestive process, and promotes regularity. The latter (soluble fiber) also goes by the name “prebiotics.”

#3: Prebiotics can help with all the above. Prebiotics are what feed and help sustain beneficial bacteria in the gut. That’s right: the microbes that help you eat, need to eat, too.

And yes, prebiotics are also a type of fiber that help soothe the digestive tract and regulate the gut. While they’re an overlooked macronutrient for gut health, they may be the most important of all because they function as dietary fiber and they support probiotic bacteria in the gut.

#4: Digestive enzymes bring it all together. What is a digestive enzyme? These activated proteins can be found in foods like pineapple, papaya, mango, and more— but can also be taken in supplement form to give the digestive process a little more “oomph”! They literally function just like the digestive enzymes and acids our own bodies, and are especially helpful if you have intolerances or otherwise if your body is underproducing them for other reasons.

Together with prebiotics, probiotics, digestive enzymes, and fiber, there are many foods for a healthy gut that can help with the digestive process, too— along with spices, herbs, and supplements.

Herbs, spices, and foods for healthy gut:

  • Beets

    foods for healthy gut | Mango | McPeak Market

    Credit: Adrian White

  • Black pepper
  • Chaga mushroom
  • Chamomile
  • Chicory root
  • Cinnamon
  • Ginger
  • Hops
  • Lavender
  • Lemon Balm
  • Mango
  • Papaya
  • Passionflower
  • Pineapple
  • Turmeric
  • …and more

What is the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

benefits of prebiotic | Chicory Plant | McPeak Market

Flower of the chicory plant | Credit: Adrian White

If you’re just now starting to explore the benefits of functional nutrition for digestion, getting a clear idea of the difference between prebiotics and probiotics is important. At first glance, they seem like they might be pretty much the same thing— but that’s not the case (though they do work together to accomplish similar things).

“Probiotic” comes from the root words “pro” and “bio,” meaning “for life.” When you take a probiotic, it directly contains beneficial bacteria and other microbes for your gut— whether it’s probiotics from a supplement, food, or drink. If you want to get actual gut microbes, you’ll want to take probiotics.

Most well-known probiotics include:

  • Lactobacillus
  • Bifidobacteria
  • Saccharomyces bourladii
  • …and more

“Prebiotic” comes from the root words “pre” and “bio,” which means “before life.” Though you don’t have to always take them before probiotics, prebiotics should be taken along with probiotics at any point because they help feed beneficial gut bacteria, though taking them beforehand is the most ideal.

Prebiotics are especially important and helpful for people who don’t get a whole lot of plant foods in their diets. Prebiotics are all plant-derived and come in supplement or powder form (or are included as an ingredient). These prebiotics get naturally “fermented’ in the gut and readily consumed an colonized by beneficial bacteria, ensuring there is a healthy population there that can continuously bring you digestive health benefits.

Most well-known prebiotics include:

  • Chicory root
  • Inulin
  • Dandelion
  • Allium greens (onion, garlic, and leeks)
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Mushrooms
  • Sea Vegetables
  • …and more

Benefits of prebiotics

As we touched on earlier, prebiotics are a type of fiber that help feed and “power up” probiotic bacteria….but that’s not all.

What else can prebiotics help with? Depending on the type you take, you can also experience less irregularity and inflammation. There may be some benefits to the immune system, too— and they may also help lower the risk of heart disease and obesity, according to research. In fact, the benefits of prebiotics share a lot of similarities with the benefits of fiber-rich plant foods, because they are pretty much identical.

Some of the best prebiotic high fiber vegetables include:

  • Asparagus
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Kale
  • Jicama root
  • Grapefruit
  • Chickpeas
  • Legumes (beans, peas)
  • …and more

Chicory, the best prebiotic – What is chicory root?

what is a digestive enzyme | Dried Chicory Root | McPeak Market

Dried Chicory Root | Credit: Adrian White

A close relative of the wild dandelion, chicory (or chicory root) is a member of the lettuce family. It’s cultivated as a vegetable and coffee substitute, but also has strong digestive properties and tons of fiber for powerful prebiotic benefits.

Studies also show that chicory has great health qualities for the gallbladder and may support gallbladder function in the digestive system. Once upon a time, the herb was used for gallbladder issues and could even help resolve gallstones! (Back before we had conventional medicines for dealing with this.) Like dandelion, its close relative, it can support liver health too.

Thanks to its bitter properties too (which many of us have experienced – if you’ve ever sipped chicory coffee), chicory also very much works like a digestif and aperitif. For this reason, it is often considered a cut above most other prebiotic sources.

Good digestion lays at the root of all good health. And at the root of good digestion are plenty of probiotics, digestive enzymes, high fiber foods, and prebiotics— with chicory root being one of the best! Make sure you’re getting all your good gut health bases covered.

Looking for an optimal, convenient solution to deliver prebiotic enzymes on-the-go? McPeak’s Defense 360 drink powders enhance the digestive system through a host of functional nutrition ingredients, including chicory root and other plant-based whole food attributes.

what is a digestive enzyme

McPeak on-the-go drink powders with prebiotics, probiotics and other plant-based immune and digestive support ingredients