Table of Contents
- Why do we need to talk about this?
- How can food affect the digestive system?
- And why do we need prebiotics?
- But, what does it mean healthy but non-digestible?
- Which food are source of prebiotics?
- What food in particular are high in prebiotic fiber?
- And what about prebiotic supplements?
- How to introduce prebiotic foods into your diet?
..What are prebiotics?
Most are familiar with the health benefits of probiotics, but very few are aware that their favorite food might be a very specific type of food we know as prebiotics.
Both probiotics and prebiotics are hot topics in nutrition, but these types of food play somewhat different roles related to our health, yet equally important. To classify a certain type of food as prebiotic food, the has to have specific types of fiber that are beneficial for gut microbiome.
But, before we dig deeper into the prebiotic food, we should first explain the difference between probiotic and prebiotic food, and look into the role prebiotics play in our everyday nutrition and in our body.
Why do we need to talk about this?
Do you lack energy? Are you feeling tired? Are you sometimes feeling bloated and uncomfortable? That is the feeling most likely caused by something you have eaten.
Unfortunately, many are suffering from a digestive disorder.
The food we eat is perceived by our body as information and material needed for proper functioning. The way some food gives us the right information, the same way different types of food can send wrong instructions to our body. Why is that important? When we don’t get the information we need. Our metabolism can suffer, and the risk of developing certain conditions and diseases increases.
Thus, certain food have health benefits for our digestive system, but the food needs to be broken down into small pieces so we can see the benefits from the nutrients in food. We need these health-promoting material for our cells to perform their functions.
The conclusion? Food is a medicine when we get the beneficial nutrients from it.
How can food affect the digestive system?
Our body, for instance, needs antioxidants to neutralize free radicals that can harm cells.
Cells die or function improperly when lacking beneficial nutrients – the nutrients the body receives from food. When cells are under attack, they are losing the ability to producer enzymes needed for an overall biological activity. Fiber is, on the other hand, needed to enable a proper function of the digestive tract and for the growth of beneficial bacteria.
To conclude: on both micro and macro level, we need healthy nutrients from the food for our body to function properly.
And why do we need prebiotics?
The primary benefit of probiotics is to help maintain a healthy digestive system. And what about prebiotics?
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria, while prebiotics are a healthy non-digestible food, that is, a dietary fibre that stimulate the growth of beneficial bacteria.
Probiotics introduce good bacteria. Prebiotics act as fertilizers for the bacteria that is already in the gut, improving the ratio between good and bad bacteria which has important benefits to our stomach, and brain as well.
Let’s take a high-sugar and fat diet as an example.
Food high in sugar influences the bacteria negatively, allowing harmful bacteria to grow faster and easily, even impacting on our organism to absorb more calories. It all comes to this: the food we eat affects gut bacteria causing either problems or benefits in the digestive tract.
But, what does it mean healthy but non-digestible?
When we consume a non-digestible food, the food remains intact throughout the digestive process, and allows the growth of bio-cultures, delivering healthy bacteria directly, and having beneficial and positive effects on the intestinal flora.
This all provide good digestive health, and those positive effects result in prebiotic effect. Prebiotics thus nourish the good bacteria – and they have several important functions in our body:
- Feeding the friendly bacteria in the digestive system
- Increasing the resistance to invading pathogens
- Combating unwanted bacteria in the organism
- Inducing metabolic activity that result in health improvements
- In particular, regulate inflammation, form vitamin K and may reduce the risk of cancer
Prebiotic bacteria strengthen the bowel wall and improve mineral absorption, and, which is very important, aid in the regulation of hormone production. Probiotics fertilize the good bacteria as they are not destroyed in the body either by heat of other bacteria.
Which food are source of prebiotics?
We can find prebiotics in vegetables, fruits and legumes we consume everyday. The common type of prebiotic is from the soluble dietary fibre – inulin – a zero calorie saccharine and inert carbohydrate. Inulin is a soluble dietary fibre that is common in many plants containing fructan (a group of carbohydrates) and present in some everyday food and herbs.
What food in particular are high in prebiotic fiber?
We know bananas are rich in vitamins and minerals, but they also contain small amounts of inulin. They are a good source of fiber. Medium-sized banana contains 3 grams of fiber. Unripe bananas also have prebiotic effects as they are high in resistant starch. There are several studies confirming the benefits of bananas for the healthy digestive system, as they reduce bloating and increase healthy bacteria.
Of the total fiber content, pectin accounts for approximately 50 percent. Pectin has prebiotic effects, and increases the concentration of a short-chain fatty acid – butyrate that feed the beneficial gut bacteria. Moreover, apples are high in polyphenol antioxidants that, combined with pectin, improve digestive health and decrease the levels of LDL cholesterol. Apples are also known to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are effective in the prevention of the chronic disease.
Ancient Romans used the root to support liver problems and to cleanse the blood. Today, chicory root is popular as a caffeine free replacement for coffee. The herb has the highest concentration of inulin, approximately 47 percent, and is also a rich source of polyphenols. One study found that chicory root extract have fungal cleansing benefits. The root also helps to increase bile production, thus, improve fat digestion.
There are many reasons we can say dandelion greens are superfoods – the greens are loaded with antioxidants and calcium. Dandelion greens are a great source of fiber (4 grams of fiber per 100-gram serving) and a high portion comes from inulin, which reduces constipation and boosts the immune system. The greens are also known for their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and diuretic properties.
Jerusalem artichokes (a.k.a. sunchokes) or “Earth apples” are delicate flavored root vegetables of sunflower family. The starch-rich root is prepared much the same way like potato in Europe and Mediterranean countries. Why should you eat it? Sunchokes are one of the best sources of dietary fibers – vegetables high in oligo-fructose inulin. The root provides 1.6 mg (4%) of fiber – increasing friendly bacteria in the colon, and helping strengthen the immune system. The vegetables are high in potassium and thiamine that are beneficial to our nervous system.
It acts as prebiotic as it help the growth of beneficial bifidobacteria in the gut, thus preventing the growing of the disease-promoting bacteria. The benefits come from naturally occurring prebiotic called fructooligosaccharides (FOS) (about 6 percent comes from FOS) and inulin (about 11 percent of garlic’s fiber comes from inulin).
FOS prebiotic is strengthening gut flora, breaking down fat and boosting the immune system as it increases nitric oxide production in cells. Additionally, garlic is effective as it may reduce the risk of heart disease. Moreover, it is known to have antioxidant and antimicrobial effects.
As garlic, onions provide many health benefits and are good for our overall metabolism. The vegetable is rich in inulin and FOS, which results in significantly empowering our immune system, and improving digestion. Similarly to garlic, inulin accounts for 10 percent of the total fiber content and FOS prebiotic around 6 percent. Onions act as a protective shield against numerous infections as the vegetable is rich in quercetin, which gives onions antioxidant, anticancer and antibiotic properties.
Strong health benefits come from another vegetable that belong to the Allium genus as garlic and onion. Leeks are known for their health-promoting properties due to the high content of vitamin K, beneficial for the hearth and bones, and a great amount of vitamins that are essential for optimum health – the leafy stems are rich source of pyridoxine, folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, and thiamin. The vegetable contain up to 16 percent inulin, and are rich in flavonoids that are supporting our body’s response to oxidative stress.
Asparagus is not only delicious – it is known for its many health benefits. The vegetable that signals the first sign of spring is a very good source of vitamins A, C, E and K, fiber, and folate. It also contains a good amount of chromium, an important mineral. Moreover, being a rich source of glutathione, a compound that helps the body with detoxification as it breaks down harmful compounds (free radicals), asparagus helps in protection against certain forms of cancer.
This natural diuretic is a great source of prebiotics.
What is cocoa good for? The list is long – cocoa decreases blood pressure and improves blood vessel health. Reduces risk factors for diabetes and cardiovascular disease (reducing heart attack disease). Helps to regulate blood sugar, provides antidepressant benefits, and acts as a mood elevator.
Moreover, cocoa is one of the highest polyphenol-containing foods thus has powerful prebiotic benefits associated with the growth of healthy gut bacteria.
Oats has known to be good for enhancing immune system and improving the digestive health due to the rich amount of fiber – almost 11 percent. Fiber called beta-glucan and resistant starch are increasing the ability to eliminate the harmful bacteria. Beta-glucan has been linked to aiding in increasing healthy gut bacteria, lowering LDL cholesterol and controlling blood sugar. Moreover, whole oats are the only source of avenanthramides, a unique group of antioxidants that protect against heart disease. Finally, oats are rich in antioxidants, unique to oats.
As an outstanding source of protein and fiber, flaxseeds are important ingredient in everyday nutrition. Different researches show that flaxseeds may help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.These plants are a health protector of our body, and a great source of prebiotics – 20 – 40 percent soluble fiber, and 60 – 80 percent insoluble fiber.
A simple grain that is low in calories and rich in vitamins is high in fiber and very beneficial for our organism. One cup of this chewy carb has around 3-8 grams of fiber, and is highly effective for managing blood sugar as it contains beta-glucan soluble fiber. The beta-glucan has been also beneficial for lowering total and LDL cholesterol. Barley is a great source of selenium and niacin, providing numerous antioxidant benefits and benefits related to cardiovascular system.
The excellent source of prebiotics is the hard outer layers of the wheat plant – bran. They are especially important for healthy gut. As wheat bran contains a special type of fiber made of arabinoxylan oligosaccharides (AXOS – about 64 – 69 percent of fiber content) that can boost healthy Bifidobacteria in the gut.
Wheat bran is also a good source of the B vitamins (niacin, vitamin B6, riboflavin and thiamin) and important minerals: manganese, magnesium, selenium, phosphorus, zinc, and copper, and provides a small amount of the fat-soluble vitamins E and K.
Burdock root leaves, and stems are used as herbal remedies. The root perhaps has the most significance due to the very rich amount of fibers where the majority comes from inulin and FOS. Moreover, the most well-known practical use of burdock is as a remedy for digestive problems. The fiber in burdock root reduce inflammation in the gut and eliminate harmful bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal problems.
Although beans can be a little potent for those who are only just introducing beans in their diets. They are packed with nutrients that enhance good bacteria. What makes them strong promoters of healthy digestive tract are oligosaccharides. Beans are also a good source of protein and potassium.
And what about prebiotic supplements?
Pills, capsules and/or liquids can contain beneficial bacteria – these are probiotic supplements. Although they are easy to find, not all have the same concentration of the bacteria or the same types. Before taking probiotic supplement, consult with a health care professionals.
How to introduce prebiotic foods into your diet?
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the population do not consume fruits and vegetables that promote digestive health.
Due to stress, the diets full of processed foods and sugar, and unhealthy lifestyle choices most people lack the microflora to maintain healthy digestion, leaving the body without all the beneficial nutrients it needs.
The more people become aware of the relationship between diet and health, the more they will understand the importance of healthy, fresh food. The first step is to be aware of this relationship. The second is to introduce more fruits and vegetables into your diet to experience better overall health.
What is your experience?
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Last article update: 3/25/2019