As the good old saying goes, you are what you eat and prebiotics are an important part of that. While the emphasis is typically placed on probiotics, prebiotics can help feed the healthy bacteria that enables probiotics to have the many health advantages that they do. But don’t be mistaken, as prebiotics also comes with their own set of benefits that can improve your digestion and strengthen your immune system for overall better health and wellness. In this article, you’ll learn all about prebiotics and how to easily get more of them in your diet.
What Are Prebiotics?
In the simplest terms possible, prebiotics are dietary fiber that are best known for feeding the friendly bacteria to your gut. This helps your gastrointestinal tract break down and digest food properly for maximum absorption of nutrients that come from foods, thus leading to a healthier digestive system.
Prebiotics vs. Probiotics?
To better understand prebiotics, you have to first understand probiotics. While both are incredibly beneficial for your gut, they help in different ways. Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for you, especially your digestive tract. In order for something to be considered a probiotic, the microorganisms of the food item must be able to survive your stomach acid and bile. This allows them to enter the colon and provide you with the beneficial effects. Some examples of probiotics are yogurt, kombucha, pickles and cheese. They’re also commonly taken in supplement form.
In comparison, prebiotics are a food source for the healthy bacteria living in your gut. Similar to probiotics, they are able to bypass the stomach and travel to your lower digestive tract to feed and allow healthy bacteria to grow. Think of foods like bananas, asparagus, honey and oats.
The Many Benefits of Prebiotics
There’s certainly no shortage of health benefits when it comes to prebiotics. Since probiotics feed on different prebiotics, the effects range greatly. While research is still needed to find and confirm all of the health advantages, here are some of the things we know prebiotics can do:
- Support a healthy gut
- Help keep your bowel movements regular
- Keeps the cells lining your gut healthy
- Help prevent constipation
- Stimulates the production of hormones that aid in appetite and appetite suppression
- Helps the body absorb calcium and phosphorus
- Improve bone density
- Improve how your immune system functions
- Increase production of good bacteria
- Decrease bad bacteria that causes disease
- Enhance the body’s anti-inflammatory response
- Changes the way foods cause spikes in blood sugar
- Produce neurotransmitters that can trigger mood changes
- Reduce the risk of certain cancers by removing toxins linked to causing cancer
- Keep blood pressure in a healthy range
- Help maintain healthy hormone levels
- Reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease
- Help you maintain a healthy weight
- Aid with stress management by having a positive effect on cortisol levels
Additional studies are also being done to see whether prebiotics can be used to effectively manage gut-related diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
Types of Prebiotic Foods
Now that you know all of the health advantages that come with prebiotics, you’re likely eager to start adding more of them into your diet – and we don’t blame you. Prebiotic foods typically contain higher amounts of fiber known as fermentable soluble fiber which are found in many fruits, vegetables and whole grains, such as:
- Green bananas
- Green veggies
Prebiotics can also be added into food items. They are sometimes disguised under different names, such as galactooligosaccharides, fructooligosaccharides, oligofructose, chicory fiber and inulin. So, if you aren’t sure what to look for and aren’t seeing “prebiotics” written in the label, these are some alternative names used. You’ll commonly find these in:
- Granola bars
- Sport drinks
You can also find prebiotics in supplement form or in a nutritional meal replacement.
How to Eat Prebiotic Foods
Eating prebiotics in their natural form is the easiest way to get them into your system and they also have healthy vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are beneficial to your health. The way you cook certain prebiotic foods can also change their nutritional value. For example, potatoes that are boiled and then chilled have the starchy film (resistant starch) that you want, whereas baking the potatoes reduces the resistant starch. However, since prebiotics can withstand the acid and bile in your gut, they can also handle high heat and other cooking methods. So, you don’t have to worry about this too much but it is worth taking note of.
Additionally, you don’t want to start taking all of these prebiotic foods and supplements overnight. This can confuse your body and cause you to feel super bloated or gassy due to the sudden activation of your microbiota. Instead, try to work them into your diet slowly. An excellent way to do this is to start cooking with more garlic, onions, leeks, shallots and scallions and gradually increase other prebiotic items into your daily meals.
It’s best to consume the majority, if not all, of your prebiotics during the day or at the very least not late in the evening as this is when your gut flora is more active.
Lastly, if you already struggle with digestive issues, such as IBS, you may find some prebiotics hard on your system and may cause you to experience bloating, diarrhea, gas and constipation. This typically happens with stone fruits, such as peaches, cherries and mangos. Keeping a food diary as you start eating more prebiotics can be an excellent way to see which ones feel best for you.
Prebiotics can be the secret weapon you were looking for to improve your digestive tract system, and overall health and wellness. Experts recommend getting at least 5 grams of prebiotics in your diet each day and to avoid adding them all in at once, as this can lead to gas and bloating. Instead, start slow and gradually add more prebiotic foods into your meals to start harnessing the powerful benefits.