Probiotics get a lot of positive press both here and in the media. In the field of nutrition, it’s one of the few areas that gets approval from just about everyone, a welcome change!
I have put out a LOT of information on why probiotics are important and you should take them, daily.
What I haven’t talked enough about – until today – are PREBIOTIC foods, what they are and why they are EQUALLY critical to a healthy gut and thus, to your overall health and wellbeing.
Prebiotic’s are fruits and vegetables with specific fibers that FEED the probiotic bacteria in your gut.
Prebiotic foods stimulate the growth and maintenance of the microbiota in your colon.
To use a term more familiar to you, consider prebiotic foods, SOLUBLE FIBER.
Whereas insoluble fiber helps keep your bowel movements regular and easy to pass, soluble fiber is the real star! SOLUBLE fiber keeps our digestive, immune, cardiovascular and other functions healthy.
Specifically, I’m interested in soluble fiber because of the types of fibers our gut can consume and ferment, like inulin, oligofructose, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), galactooligosaccharides (GOS), and other oligosaccharides.
There is an important difference between long chain and short chain prebiotic fibers. For instance, inulin is a long chain prebiotic fiber which digests slowly and provides food for the bacteria on the left side of the colon. Conversely, oligofructose is a short chain prebiotic fiber which ferments faster and feeds the right side of the colon.
What are (some) the health benefits of prebiotics?
- Increase the variety and health of probiotic bifidobacteria in the colon
- Increase magnesium and calcium absorption
- Have been shown to inhibit precancerous colon sessions in rats
- Have been studied for their ability reduce fasting glucose, A1C and LDL in Type 2 diabetes patients
- Can improve symptoms in patients with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Current research shows that combining probiotics AND prebiotics together have a greater effect on gut health, than either of them alone.
What foods contain prebiotic fiber?
There are tons but here are some to get you started:
- leeks, onions
- flax seed
- chia seed
- artichokes, especially Jerusalem
- chicory, burdock, Tiger nuts
- blueberries, cherries, pomegranate, grapes
- sea vegetables
- green tea
- raw honey
- polyphenol-rich foods like apples, broccoli, plums, etc
- whole grains
There are prebiotic supplements you can purchase. But…it is way better to eat your prebiotic rich foods! Ideally, you want to strive for 7-9 servings of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables per day.
Lastly, if you suffer from severe gut dysfunction, eating too many (or any, for the very worse cases) prebiotic foods can be harmful. If these foods are new for you, go slow and increase quantity over time.