We’ve all heard about the benefit of probiotics in maintaining a healthy body, but did you know that prebiotics also play an integral role in supporting our health? Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of prebiotics before, you’re probably already ingesting them without knowing it. Here’s everything you need to know about this important but largely-unsung hero of our digestive system.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are essentially that food that your probiotics eat. Put simply, probiotics eat prebiotics. In order for your good bacteria to survive in the bowel, you need to feed them. So it makes sense if you’re going to the effort and expense of developing the flora in your gut, that you feed the good bacteria exactly what they want to eat.
Prebiotics are actually a type of indigestible fibre. When we eat particular foods, these prebiotics pass through our upper gastrointestinal tract and remain undigested, since the human body can’t fully break them down. As always the magic happens in the colon, where the undigested prebiotic fibres are fermented by the gut microflora and used as their fuel source. The more prebiotics that probiotics have to eat, the more efficiently your good bacteria works and the healthier your gut will be.
Types of prebiotic foods
For the best natural sources of prebiotics, you can’t look past a range of certain vegetables, some whole grains, sources of resistant starch and even honey. The best prebiotic foods to incorporate into your diet include garlic, onions, leek, Jerusalem artichoke, dandelion greens, under-ripe bananas, asparagus, apples, oats, psyllium husk and whole-grain wheat. And remember, raw is best when it comes to maximising your prebiotic intake - so try to avoid cooking these foods for optimum results.
How prebiotics benefit your health
Emerging research is showing that a higher intake of prebiotics is linked to a variety of health benefits, including:
- Better overall gut health
- Improved digestion
- Balanced stress response
- Higher immune function
- Lower risk for obesity and weight gain
- Reduced inflammatory reactions, and
- Decreased risk of cardiovascular disease
Sensitivity to prebiotic foods
More and more people are choosing to follow a low-FODMAP diet to help improve digestive complaints. FODMAP foods can cause bloating and other forms of gastrointestinal distress, and include Oligosaccharides, Fructans, Sugar Alcohols and other similar short-chain carbohydrates. Many of these FODMAP foods are fantastic sources of necessary prebiotics, but if you’re one of the people with a FODMAP sensitivity your body will poorly absorb the short-chain carbohydrates in your small intestine, and you may experience bloating and discomfort when eating prebiotic foods.
That’s not to say you need to avoid prebiotics altogether – a short-term elimination plan and a good cleanse is usually enough to assist with symptoms. Then you can begin reintroducing prebiotics to keep your good bacteria well fed and happy!