Our bodies are independent communities of microorganisms, each one completely unique from the other. Colonies of bacteria, fungi, and viruses live on our skin and within our bodies. In fact, there are more of these microorganisms than there are human cells in the body and the relationship is symbiotic, and even codependent. This is the human microbiome.

Many of these microbes live in the mucosal lining of the colon and are directly connected to the immune system. Scientific studies reveal that a diverse range of beneficial foods can improve immune function.

All of this might seem overwhelming, but one of the very practical things we can do to improve our health is to eat different things, from day to day, week to week, season to season.

Prebiotics versus probiotics

Prebiotic foods such as avocado, garlic, onions, whole grains like oatmeal, and bananas contain specialized plant fibers that feed gut microbes.

Probiotic foods contain live beneficial bacteria and yeast that can support and restore healthy gut microbes.

Lion's mane mushrooms from Golden Mushroom Co. Image: Bhadri Kubendran.

Prebiotic foods to support good gut microbes

Eat a diverse array of whole foods (unrefined and without artificial ingredients) and lots of fiber-rich plants. Basically, eat as many vegetables and fruits as you can. Fiber promotes growth of beneficial bifidobacteria* linked to improving immune system health.

Edible mushrooms are an excellent source of prebiotics, which nourish beneficial gut bacteria. While all edible mushroom varieties serve as rich dietary sources of fiber and plant-based protein, try varieties like shiitake, oyster, and lion’s mane for the most gut-boosting benefits.

3 San Diego-based mushroom growers

Golden Mushroom Co.

» goldenmushroomco.com

Mindful Mushrooms

» mindfulmushroomstore.com

Mountain Meadow Mushrooms

» mmmushroom.com

*bifidobacteria (plural) are found in the intestinal flora of humans and produce acetic and lactic acid by fermenting carbohydrates.

Homemade sourdough starter. Image: Olivia Hayo.

Sourdough baked goods

Sourdough fermentation offers both prebiotic and probiotic benefits to eaters. Most commercial sourdough breads are made with instant yeast and artificial flavors. If you’re not up for baking it on your own, it’s best to buy from a reputable supplier that uses a natural sourdough starter.

9 real sourdough bread makers

Cook’s Gluten-Free Sourdough

» cooksglutenfreesourdough.com

Izola Artisan Bakery

» izolabakery.com

Jane’s Baking Co.

» hotplate.com/janesbakingco

Knockout Bread

» sienna1702.aidaform.com/ko

Olive Baking Company

» olivebakingcompany.com

Prager Brothers

» pragerbrothers.com

San Diego Urban Farm

» sdurbanfarm.com

Sourdough Delight

» sourdoughdelight.com

Wildwood Flour

» wildwoodflour.com

Peppers fermenting in jars. Image: Olivia Hayo.

Probiotic foods for a healthy gut

Enjoy fermented foods rich in lactobacilli (probiotics) like kimchi, tempeh, kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, and miso. Learn to make your own fermented foods with the San Diego Fermenters Club

» fermentersclub.com

5 local fermented food makers to try

Down to Ferment

» down2ferment.com

Edible Alchemy

» ediblealchemysd.com

San Diego Tempeh

» sandiegotempeh.com

Twins Kimchi

» twinskimchi.com

West Coast Koji

» westcoastkoji.com

Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. Consult with a healthcare practitioner before making any significant dietary changes.

Follow your gut originally published in the winter 2022–2023 issue.

Cover image: Bhadri Kubendran.

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About the Contributor
Maria Hesse
Maria Hesse is the executive editor and designer of Edible San Diego. Her interest in functional arts led to a degree in interior design, which inspires her passion to be an advocate for sustainable living through food. She enjoys balcony gardening and designing crochet patterns in her downtime. Find her @mariafromediblesd and @waysidestudiowest on Instagram.