Not too long ago we wrote about probiotics, their importance, and where you can find them in healthy foods. To recap, probiotics are a type of good bacteria contained in foods like yogurt. But there’s a misconception out there that probiotics and prebiotics are the same thing, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible carbohydrate that acts as a source of food for probiotics. They are a dietary fiber that acts as a type of fertilizer for the good bacteria (probiotics) in your gut. Prebiotics aren’t affected by heat, cold, or acid, and they help nourish the good bacteria that you already have in your gut. Without prebiotics, you may experience indigestion, inflammation, lower immune system functioning, weight gain, and the onset of other chronic diseases.
You can learn more about the role of prebiotics in the body in these studies:
- Dietary modulation of the human colonic microbiota: introducing the concept of prebiotics
- Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics—approaching a definition
- Dietary modulation of the human colonic microbiota: updating the concept of prebiotics
- Therapeutic manipulation of the enteric microflora in inflammatory bowel diseases: antibiotics, probiotics, and prebiotics
Potential Benefits of Prebiotics
Even if you haven’t heard much about prebiotics in the past, they have many health benefits for the human body. Research shows that prebiotics may have the following benefits when consumed through food and supplements.
- Aid digestion
- Treat diarrhea
- Treat vaginal yeast infections
- Treat urinary tract infections
- Treat certain intestinal infections
- Better hormone balance
- Help with digestive disorders and inflammatory bowel disease
- Prevent and reduce the symptoms of colds and the flu
- Lower risk of weight gain
- Healthier cholesterol levels
Medical researchers continue to study the role of prebiotics and how they may assist in these ways and many others.
The Connection Between Prebiotics and Probiotics
Prebiotics and probiotics depend upon each other to survive, and when they’re combined, they form what’s called a synbiotic. Certain foods and supplements are considered to be synbiotic because they contain both prebiotics and probiotics.
Prebiotics are important because they fuel the good bacteria in your gut as it fights off the bad bacteria to keep everything working properly. Consistency is key when consuming both prebiotics and probiotics to maintain regularity in your gut.
Prebiotic Food Sources
Lots of delicious foods that you’re already eating contain prebiotics, so you may not have to alter your diet much at all to get the prebiotics your body needs. Many fruits and vegetables contain prebiotic fiber, so this is another reason to eat plenty of produce every day.
These are some of top food sources of prebiotics.
- Chicory Root
- Brussels sprouts
- Dandelion root
- Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kombucha and kimchi
To get the full health benefits of prebiotics, nutrition researchers have recommended getting at least five grams of prebiotic-rich foods per day. As a general rule, raw fruits and vegetables contain more nutrients than cooked ones, since the heating process eliminates some of them. So try to consume as many of these foods in raw form for the greatest benefit.
Supplementing with Prebiotics
There are plenty of prebiotic supplements on the market these days, and after reading about all the health benefits prebiotics offer, you may be tempted to run out to the health food store to stock up on them. Most fruit and vegetables only have small amounts of prebiotics, so it can be a challenge to get enough of them from food alone.
There aren’t really any known side effects that result from taking prebiotics, so they are generally safe to take. However, prebiotic supplements are probably only necessary if you aren’t getting enough of the foods mentioned above, and that’s something you should personally discuss with your doctor.