Do you eat prebiotics? If yes, do you know why or which ones are the best for you?
What is a prebiotic?
Anything that feeds or stimulates the growth of probiotic bacteria in any way that improves health is considered a prebiotic.
There are many different benefits of prebiotics, and a few of them include increased calcium absorption, leading to improvement in bone density and increase in magnesium absorption, positive effects on the immune system, and they can lower cholesterol. They can improve insulin sensitivity. They can support weight loss, help to reverse non-alcoholic liver disease and have a positive effect on gut barrier function or leaky gut. So, as you can see just from those examples of how prebiotics affect your health they can be quite transformative.
The three main things to remember to know and remember about prebiotics:
- They are not absorbed in the upper gastrointestinal tract.
- They must be able to resist the acidity of the gut. And by that, I mean that they don’t get broken down by the acidity in the upper digestive system (if you eat them, and they get broken down stomach bile – they are not considered prebiotics)
- They have to have the ability to be fermented by intestinal bacteria. They are the food source of the gut microbiome and the bacteria that live in your digestive system so they really must be able to be fermented by the intestinal bacteria that live in the lower part of the digestive tract.
What sort of foods are considered prebiotic?
Well, all fruits and vegetables are prebiotic because they contain fibre. But, but fibre is a pretty broad category. So we’re specifically focusing on soluble fibre (but there is also insoluble fibre) – soluble fibre means that it absorbs water and forms a gel-like substance, it can be broken down and fermented by the bacteria in the lower digestive tract. An example of insoluble fibre is wheat and wheat is not a prebiotic food. So a person who avoids wheat is not losing their access to soluble fibre. Yes yes, I know that wheat is a really common one to be thought of as the main source of fibre intake, but honestly, you’re going to get a better quality fibre if you focus on soluble fibre.
Soluble fibre which comes from your fruit and vegetables, oats, psyllium husks, beans and legumes, nuts and seeds.
Side note: Psyllium husk – which is a favourite of mine to recommend for constipation or digestive issues that are affecting the lower bowels. Because it is a fantastic food source for the bacteria in the lower digestive system.
The best-studied and most effective type of prebiotic soluble fibre, and those that contain inulin. Inulin is a type of fructooligosaccharide, that is often used as a food additive. This is because it is low in calories, and it replaces sugar. Consuming food additive inulin is not the same as consuming inulin in whole foods, such as chicory root, because it is gone through an extraction process so you’re not getting the exact same benefits of that inulin prebiotic fibre that you would be if you consumed a whole food.
How much fibre should you eat?
The goal is to consume two to six grams each day.
How does prebiotics benefit good bacteria exclusively?
There are two major ways!
- Prebiotics lower the pH of the intestines by feeding the bacteria that produces lactic acid. The low pH ward’s off pathogens, which tend to grow in a higher pH environment.
- When the levels of good bacteria grow they produce antibacterial molecules that would affect bad bacteria, which is quite amazing that our prebiotics are so clever to exclusively help out with bacteria like that, which is amazing.
Are there any side effects of eating prebiotics?
Sometimes by having too much in a short space of time or that your body is not used to having those sorts of prebiotic foods can have “side effects”. Typically they can cause gas, bloating digestive discomfort. Generally, these symptoms go away quite quickly. But if the symptoms don’t go away after a couple of days the gut might be might not be strong enough to be able to cope with this amount of prebiotics or this particular type of prebiotic fibre at this time.
People with SIBO or IBS or are consuming a low fodmap diet should really be most careful of that prebiotic intake as it may set you off!
So do you eat prebiotics? Are you eating enough?