Not to be confused with probiotics, prebiotics are a type of fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut. Here's an overview of prebiotics and their benefits.
What are prebiotics?
As we mentioned, prebiotics are a type of fiber, which are indigestible and therefore are able to travel all the way down to the colon where bacteria in your gut ferment the fiber, using it for fuel. The process of fermentation also results in the production of products, such as short chain fatty acids, that help regulate the immune system, the digestive system, and several other systems in your body.
Prebiotics are present in all fiber rich foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans. In more scientific terms, the types of fiber technically considered prebiotics include fructans (inulin and fructo-oligosaccharide or oligofructose), galacto-oligosaccharides, resistant starch, “other” oligosaccharides (e.g. pectin, and certain sugars such as xylose), and non-carbohydrate oligosaccharides (e.g. cocoa-derived flavanols). It should be noted that prebiotics are different from probiotics. Probiotics refers to live bacteria consumed in the form of fermented foods or supplements, whereas prebiotics refers to the food for these bacteria.
What are the claimed benefits?
Prebiotics are said to improve health in many ways including:
Increasing calcium absorptions
Decreasing the risk of allergies
Boosting the immune system
Improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome
What does the science say?
Consuming prebiotics helps to change the composition of bacteria in your gut, so that there are more friendly and health promoting bacteria than harmful bacteria residing in your colon. Additionally, as the bacteria ferment the fiber they produce short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which have numerous health benefits. SCFAs play a large role in regulation of immunity, maintenance of gut health, and in taming systemic inflammation. Below is a closer look at exactly how probiotics and short chain fatty acids help to promote and maintain overall health.
Increase calcium absorption: The production of SCFAs lowers the pH of the intestines, creating an acidic environment which is believed to assist with calcium absorption. This ultimately helps prevent bone degradation with age and protect against osteoporosis.
Boost Immunity and Decreased Inflammation: SCFAs and other products produced by the bacteria in your gut help to regulate the immune system and prevent inflammation. This ultimately decreases the risk of developing chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Improved Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and inflammatory Bowel Disease: Prebiotics stimulate the growth of bacteria known to be beneficial, which helps to crowd out potentially harmful bacteria. This in itself helps to decrease inflammation since an overgrowth of bad bacteria has been associated with conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. Additionally, the bacteria within the microbiome regulate the immune system by signalling for an increase in the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines and a decrease in the production of inflammatory cytokines. They also decrease intestinal permeability and increase the production of mucus -- both of which help to mitigate inflammation and maintain normal healthy gut function.
Allergies: Thus far there is no specific evidence that prebiotics assist with allergies
Prebiotics are generally recognized as safe, however consuming too much fiber or increasing your fiber intake too quickly can cause abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, and diarrhea.
The Apeiron Life perspective
Our goal is to support your long term health and thus far the research has clearly demonstrated the numerous health benefits of a diet rich in fiber (prebiotics). It’s recommended to consume at least 30 grams of fiber a day in order to adequately support the gut and overall health. It’s estimated that Americans consume on average 15 grams of fiber a day, so chances are you could probably add in a bit more. If you already have a higher fiber diet and are experiencing consistent abdominal pain, bloating, gas, and/or diarrhea it’s best to speak with a nutritionally-informed doctor or Registered Dietitian for further evaluation.
Will prebiotics benefit you?
Yes! One of the best ways to support optimal health is through nourishing the gut microbiome and one of the best ways to feed the microbiome is through a fiber rich diet.
Eat these foods
If you are interested in increasing your intake of prebiotics, the best thing to do is to add more fiber into your diet by consuming more whole plant foods. Below are a few examples of foods rich in prebiotics:
Vegetables: onions, garlic, leeks, shallots, spring onion, asparagus, dandelion greens, jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), chicory, beets, fennel, green peas, snow peas, sweetcorn, savoy cabbage, eggplant, endive, radicchio, jicama root
Fruits: nectarines, peaches, persimmon, tamarillo, watermelon, rambutan, grapefruit, pomegranate, dried dates and figs, apples, bananas
Grains: barley, rye bread & crackers, whole wheat pasta & bread, wheat bran, oats
Legumes: chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, black beans, soybeans
Nuts & seeds: cashews, pistachios, flax