What are prebiotics? is a question that many people are asking these days.
Prebiotics are natural indigestible foods or carbohydrates (oligosaccharides) that are found naturally in fruit and vegetables.
Prebiotics were discovered and named in 1995 by Marcel Roberfroid. In the 2007 edition of the Journal of Nutrition, he provides a definition of prebiotics as a;
“selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well-being and health.”
This basically means, that prebiotics can benefit your digestion because they feed and promote the growth of the good bacteria that live in your digestive tract. Good or friendly bacteria are produced by your digestive system and these minute microflora ensure your digestion system stays healthy and balanced.
Good bacteria are often referred to as probiotics. However, probiotics do not occur in nature, they are man-made. Actually, the term probiotics describes the process of replenishing or topping up the friendly bacteria in your gut. Both prebiotics and probiotics work in harmony with each other.
Friendly bacteria are actually live organisms, whereas prebiotics are components within food that your body cannot fully digest or absorb. Carbohydrates such as inulim and oligofructose are two of these components, that are partially broken down in the gut. What is left over, is then used to feed the beneficial bacteria.
Long And Short Chain Prebiotics
Further research into prebiotics, has revealed that inulim and oligofructose have different qualities that can benefit the colon. For example, oligofructose is considered a short chain prebiotic. This means they have only 2 to 8 links per saccharine molecule. As they have fewer links, they ferment more rapidly in the gut and feed the healthy bacteria populating the right side of the colon.
Inulim is considered a long chain prebiotic. It has more links per molecule – 9 to 64 links to be precise. With more links, they take longer to ferment and by doing so, feed the friendly bacteria on the left side of the colon. When inulim and oligofructose are combined together, they are referred to as full spectrum prebiotics, meaning they provide the full range of benefits to your digestive system.
Prebiotics And The Modern Diet
The modern western diet that many people eat these days is very low in prebiotics. These days processed and junk food have become the mainstay and it is no surprise, that more people are suffering chronic digestive problems and sluggish bowel movements. Processed foods are laden with sodium, additives and preservatives and little to no nutrients and fiber needed to feed our bodies.
This is in direct contrast to the generations who lived before us. In the past people ate a diet that was much closer to nature and was primarily based on fresh vegetables and fruit. These are a rich sources of dietary fibre and prebiotics, which meant their prebiotic intake, was at least twice as high as it is today.
What Are Prebiotic Foods
We already understand that both vegetables and fruit are rich in prebiotics, however here is a list or prebiotic rich foods that you may want to include in your own diet:
- Jerusalem artichoke
- raw onions
- fresh herbs
Prebiotics and Probiotics
Again, to emphasize the difference between the two – prebiotics feed the probiotics while, probiotic foods such as yogurt contain live, friendly bacteria such as bifidobacteria. Probiotics can be used to supplement or top up your existing friendly intestinal bacteria.
It is important to point out that your gut also contains bad bacteria and if they are allowed to spread, they can begin to cause numerous digestive disorders and gut infections. As long as your digestive tract contains plenty of the friendly bacteria and remains balanced, the bad bacteria will be kept under control.
A balanced and healthy digestive system is the foundation of your bodies health – both physically and emotionally. It is also your first line of defence against foreign invaders, which means it is directly linked to your immune system. When your digestive system is compromised, your immune system will be to.
The healthy bacteria contained within your gut, play the vital role of breaking down the food you eat. They also enable your body greater absorption of the nutrients, vitamins and minerals, that are vital for your life and vitality – therefore, be mindful of what you put in your mouth!
Two is always better than one and this is very true with probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are fragile, and they need support. When consumed a large percentage can be killed by your stomach acid. If you already have poor digestion, then you do not have the optimal environment for probiotics to thrive in.
Even if you eat a diet that is rich in probiotic foods, these will be wasted if the right environment does not already exist in your gut.
In order for probiotics to benefit you, they need the help of prebiotics to create the right environment. In this way the prebiotics are a like a scouting party ensuring the path ahead is safe for the probiotics to travel. For this reason, eating a diet rich in prebiotics will help you optimize the digestive health benefits of probiotics.
If you are not use to eating a high fibre diet, then these foods may cause you digestive problems or abdominal pains. Fortunately a good quality natural prebiotic supplement would enable you to attain the benefits of the prebiotics while avoiding a stomach upset.