April 13, 2015

by Judy Palken, MNS, RD, LDN

Reader Question:

I am taking a probiotic supplement, and trying to eat foods with good bacteria like yogurt, I have heard that I also should try to eat prebiotics.  Can you tell me what these are, and if they are really good for me, and if so, where can I get them?  Do I need to buy them in a pill?


Great questions!  Let’s define probiotic.  As you may know, probiotics are beneficial bacteria, and can be found in foods with live bacterial cultures such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir.  They are also available in supplement form. Prebiotics are foods for the probiotics to feed upon. When the bacteria are fed what they need, they can thrive and provide us with health benefits.

Fortunately, what the good bacteria like also happens to be good for us!  These foods contain types of fiber such as beta-glucans and inulin that the bacteria feed upon. They metabolize these fibers into products that help to maintain our gastrointestinal health.  No need to buy any type of pill!  Food is best.

Here are some foods that are great prebiotics:

Oats – regular (i.e., old fashioned) or steel cut, not the flavored packets with added sugar and salt, Bananas, Blueberries -unsweetened, fresh or frozen, Asparagus, Spinach, Artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, Onions, Leeks, Garlic, Flax seed – best to buy it ground, or grind your own, and store in fridge or freezer, Chia seed – store in fridge or freezer

Some tips for getting your prebiotics:

Make oatmeal a part of your breakfast routine, or a nourishing snack – top with blueberries and sliced banana.

Jerusalem artichokes are actually tubers, and not any kind of artichoke.  They are a great source of the fiber inulin.  They can be sliced into salad raw, or cooked like potatoes.

Slice bananas onto hot or cold cereal or yogurt, and put into pancakes or muffins.  Extremely portable – carry one with you to work or when running errands.  Bananas are also high in potassium and vitamin B-6.

Use onions, leeks, and garlic for great flavors in your cooking.  In addition to their prebiotic properties, onions contain polyphenols – compounds that help protect our cells from oxidative stress, and may help to protect against heart disease and certain types of cancer.  Garlic contains compounds that may help to lower LDL-cholesterol, blood pressure, and the risk of blood clots.

Add ground flax, and chia seeds, to yogurt, smoothies, hot and cold cereal, pancake, muffin and cookie batters, salads, and casseroles.  Keep them front and center in your fridge, and you will surely find other ways to use them.  They also contain the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid, which in your body gets converted to the same type of healthful omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish.

Spinach is a nutritional powerhouse – bursting with many vitamins, minerals, fiber, and rich in lutein and zeaxanthin – two phytochemicals that seem to have a role in helping to prevent age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of irreversible blindness in older Americans.  Use spinach raw in salads, cook it with scrambled eggs or in omelets, and add to pasta sauces and casseroles.

Blueberries are rich in anthocyanins, phytochemicals that may help to protect against cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.  Enjoy them in smoothies, in salads, on desserts, on cereal, and on their own!

Perfect for Spring – try roasting asparagus by itself or with other vegetables.

Here are some recipes using some probiotic foods.

Roasted Asparagus – 4 servings, easy!

1 bunch asparagus spears, trimmed
1 clove garlic, minced
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp lemon juice
salt and black pepper to taste
optional – 1 1/2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, any fresh or dried herbs you like

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Place the asparagus and garlic into a mixing bowl, and drizzle with the olive oil and lemon juice. Toss to coat the spears, then add a dash of salt and/or pepper if you like. Then add optional Parmesan cheese and any herbs.

Arrange the asparagus spears on a baking sheet in a single layer. You can line the baking sheet with foil for easier cleanup.

Bake in the preheated oven until just tender, 12 to 15 minutes depending on thickness. Adapted from:

Spinach Artichoke Yogurt Dip

1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 10-oz package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup low fat or nonfat, plain, regular or Greek yogurt
1 cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese
1/4 cup chopped scallions
1 garlic clove, minced
2 Tbsp chopped red pepper

Combine all ingredients except red pepper and mix well. Pour mixture into 1-quart casserole dish or 9-inch pie plate. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes or until heated through and sprinkle with red peppers. Serve with veggies and/or IBD-Aid crackers.

Adapted from:

You can find more at


Today’s diet tip is brought to us by Judy Palken, MNS, RD, LDN

If you are not feeling well, having a flare, or want a nutritional boost give smoothies a try! Smoothies are a delicious, refreshing way to get in lots of great, nourishing foods. Blending breaks down foods, making it is easier for your gut to absorb the healthful components. If you have digestive issues such as diarrhea, malabsorption, or difficulty eating whole fruits and vegetables, this is important!

This smoothie is sweet, tangy and ever-so-slightly spiced—your family and friends without IBD will want it too! Have one for breakfast, a snack, or a dessert; spoon or straw!

Blueberry-Ginger Smoothieblueberry
½ cup plain low fat or nonfat yogurt
1 cup frozen blueberries
⅓ cup unsweetened almond milk
1 Tbsp honey
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract
1 Tbsp grated ginger
a dash cinnamon

Directions: Put all ingredients in a blender and purée until smooth. Add more almond milk if it’s too thick. If you use fresh blueberries, you can add ½ cup ice into the mix to keep the texture. If you are suffering a flare and having trouble with seeds, substitute a different frozen fruit–mango, peaches, or cherries work just as well.

Let’s take a look to see why this smoothie is good for you, especially if you have Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IDB).

Yogurt is an excellent source of beneficial bacteria (probiotics). In IBD, there seems to be an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract – eating probiotic-rich foods can help to restore the proper balance. Chose a yogurt with live, active cultures. And, always check the “best by” date. Also, it is wise to choose plain, low fat or nonfat yogurt.

Commercially-fruited, flavored yogurts have a lot of added sugar, and are best avoided. All that sugar is inflammatory, and feeds the bad bacteria!

Regular or Greek? Greek yogurt is strained, and has more protein, which is good if your food intake has been low. Either is type is good.

Blueberries contain a type of fiber that the good bacteria love to eat – this makes blueberries a good prebiotic food. Blueberries (and other berries) are a fantastic source ofanthocyanins, plant compounds that seem to protect against cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, and may help prevent the decline in mental functioning as we age. Be sure your frozen blueberries are unsweetened.

Almond milk – buy an unsweetened variety – it may be plain, or vanilla.You can also try soy milk, oat milk, hemp milk, and flax milk in smoothies. have fun trying different plant-based beverages. Soy milk stands out for its good protein and vitamin D content.

Honey is the sweetener of choice, ideally raw, local honey, which will have beneficial bacteria, making it another probiotic food.

Ginger has long been known to help alleviate gastrointestinal distress, and also contains anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. Fresh ginger root can be stored in the freezer to keep longer. Just slip it in a zip-loc bag.

Cinnamon, in addition to tasting great, contains proanthocyanidins, plant compounds which may help control blood sugar, and may decrease LDL-cholesterol and triglycerides (fats in the bloodstream).In fact, most herbs and spices are great sources of healthful plant compounds, so use them freely and often in your cooking.

Enjoy! We’ll have more recipes soon!

You can learn more about the IBD-AID visiting the UMass Medical School Center for Applied Nutrition

Recipe adapted from:

Congratulations to CMR Director Beth McCormick!

IMG_0972Beth has been elected to the American Academy for Microbiology (AAM) in recognition for her achievements and contributions to the field of Microbiology. The AAM is the honorific leadership group of the American Society for Microbiology, the world’s oldest and largest life sciences organization.

Beth’s research is focused on mucosal inflammation, host-pathogen interactions and cancer biology. Her lab employs enteric pathogens to understand the disease pathophysiology underlying both acute and chronic diseases of the intestinal tract known as inflammatory bowel disease.

Read more here:

The Human Microbiome: Your Own Personal Ecosystem

FASEBOur recent studies have revealed that there exists in normal animals an abundant and characteristic microflora, not only in the large intestine, but also in all the other parts of the digestive tract, including the mouth, the stomach and the small intestine. These microorganisms should not be regarded merely as contaminants. Rather, they become so intimately associated with the various digestive organs that they form with them a well-defined ecosystem of which each component is influenced by the others, and by the environmental conditions.”–René Dubos (1964)

This quote leads a terrific article published by FASEB that sets the context for microbiome research. Starting at the beginning with Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in the 17th century and his description of “many very little living animalcules, very prettily a-moving”–residents of his own mouth–and continuing on through Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch who developed our understandings of “germs” and infectious disease. The article takes us through microbiology to the present day and our growing understanding of the microbial ecosystem that keep us healthy.

Highly recommended reading. Find the article here:

The Human Microbiome: Your Own Personal Ecosystem

A big congratulations to Vanni Bucci!

vanniVanni has been awarded a grant from the NIAID to apply new mathematical to improve treatment of intestinal disease. The work will be to predict the effects of broad spectrum antibiotics affect the dynamics of the microbiome. The goal is to identify microbiome patterns and develop strategies to speed recovery or prevent disease in the first place.

Read the UMass Dartmouth press release here:
UMass Dartmouth Professor earns…

Vanni was a co-author of a recent Nature article–“Precision microbiome reconstitution restores bile acid mediated resistance to Clostridium difficile“– where that the gut commensal bacterium Clostridium scindens is associated with resistance to C. difficile. C. scindens metabolizes bile salts to produce inhibitors of C. difficile. Very exciting!


The UMass Center for Microbiome Research was created to accelerate our understanding of how the microbes that live in, on and around us influence our lives, our health and our environment. Please enjoy the adventure.