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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, and 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?
As you probably know, some food we consume are digested immediately, and some are not. 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.