Many people know that fiber and probiotics have a lengthy list of health benefits, but prebiotics are still pretty unknown and under-appreciated.
Your microbiome effects everything you do...from work, to family, to social and physical activities. So keeping your gut healthy is not only crucial to your digestive health, it's important to feeling good in all areas of your life.
So what are prebiotics and what do they do?
A prebiotic is a soluble fiber (not all fiber are prebiotics) that is used mostly by our beneficial good bacteria as a fuel. These good bacteria produce certain substances that acidify the colon (a good thing) and serve as a nutrition source for the colon’s cells. The colon provides a warm, oxygen-free environment for these beneficial bacteria to grow. In turn, these bacteria manufacture the nutrition source for the colon. This is a true symbiotic relationship where both the bacteria and colon depend on each other and promote each others’ health.
Inulin and Oligofructose are the most researched prebiotics. Inulin is found in over 36,000 types of plants. However, as agriculture has evolved over the years, the food we get inulin from has decreased significantly. In the U.S., we get very little of this valuable fiber-- about 2-3g/day. It is recommended that we consume at least 25g of fiber/day, from a variety of fibrous sources to maintain a healthy gut.
The best sources of inulin include: wheat, onions, bananas, garlic, leeks, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, wild yam, agava, and jicama.
A few things to note about prebiotics:
- Like most fibers, they are not digestable
- They are used as fuel or fermented by colon bacteria
- They produce measurable objective health benefits
A great source of inulin and oligofructose can be found in Prebiotin, a powder supplement that can be dissolved into any liquid. I like to add a scoop to my coffee or blend up in a smoothie. The taste is pretty mild, much like collagen peptides, so you can mix it with any liquid and reap all the benefits.
How exactly do prebiotics differ from probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria found in yogurts, fermented foods and supplements that are good for our digestive system. They are considered good bacteria, and can be helpful in maintaining a balance of good bacteria in our gut.
Our bodies are constantly striving for homeostasis. We lose good bacteria along with bad bacteria through digestion, with antibiotics and some other medications, so taking probiotics daily is a good way to ensure we are replenishing our gut microflora.
We are still trying to determine which types of bacteria are best for certain health problems, but we do know that probiotics can help with:
- IBS (Irritable bowel syndrome)
- IBD (Inflammatory bowel disease)
- Antibiotic bacteria depletion (and related diarrhea)
- Certain skin conditions, like eczema
- Urinary and vaginal health (say no to UTI's)
- Immune health
- Oral health
As someone who is lactose intolerant, I have a hard time getting all the health benefits from dairy, like probiotics, in my diet, so supplementation is necessary. I recently discovered a brand, Genuine Health, that has a lot of fermented supplements and snacks and it has been a game changer.
I add their Fermented Vegan Proteins powder to smoothies or a glass of almond milk. It's a great way to get both non-dairy probiotics in as well as plant-based protein. Their chocolate flavor is my fave.
I also like their Fermented Whole Body Nutrition supplement, which contains 70% fermented ingredients, provides immune support, and nourishes gut microflora. Add a scoop of the natural flavor to any liquid or dish-- coffee, soup, smoothie, curry, etc.
I recommend incorporating both prebiotics and probiotics in to your diet, as they both serve different functions in our body, yet help each other at the same time. If you think about prebiotics as soluble fiber that feeds the probiotics plus good bacteria already in our gut, then you can see the symbiotic benefit of consuming both.