Prebiotics are substances that keep beneficial microorganisms (bacteria) in your colon healthy. They do this by selectively initiating the growth of one or a number of different bacteria in your large intestine. In simpler terms, prebiotics make your friendly bacteria stronger and healthier so they can serve you better.
How are PREbiotics different from PRObiotics?
A probiotic can be generally defined as any bacterial food supplement which positively affects you. Basically, probiotics are friendly bacteria that you ingest to improve the health of your intestinal tract. A healthy intestinal tract translates into a healthy body. Beneficial bacteria are an important part of the intestinal barrier; letting in nutrients while keeping toxins and pathogens out.
Think about it for a minute or two, if your gastrointestinal tract (commonly referred to as your gut) is messed up or sickly, you will not be able to assimilate and absorb the nutrients that your body needs. This will send your body into a downward spiral making you susceptible to a wide variety of diseases.
Briefly, a prebiotic is a nondigestible food component (food for your good bacteria) that helps the probiotic (good bacteria) in your intestinal tract. This in turn helps you. Probiotics and prebiotics work synergistically to promote good health.
Check out this table for more on the differences between prebiotics and probiotics:
|What are they?!
||Nondigestible food ingredients
||Beneficial live bacteria
||Stimulate the activity and growth of probiotics
||Keep your intestinal tract healthy
|Examples of common food sources
||Garlic, artichokes, onions, honey, bananas, leeks, asparagusFortified foods and drinks
|Live cultured yoghurt, kefir or milk drinks (e.g. Yakult)Sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented products
|Examples of health related effects
||Can aid gastrointestinal health and systemic immunityMay improve calcium and magnesium absorption
||Can aid gastrointestinal health and systemic immunity
(To read more on probiotics click here)
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Can all food supplements qualify as a prebiotic?
The answer is no. This is the part where we should all be careful. Not all food supplements that claim to be prebiotics should be deemed as such. To qualify as a prebiotic, the following criteria should be met:
- The prebiotic must survive the acid environment of your stomach. The acid in your stomach shouldn’t destroy your prebiotic in a way that renders it useless when it reaches your large intestine. It will serve no purpose for your beneficial microorganisms if that happens.
- The beneficial bacteria present in your gut should be able to utilise the prebiotic through fermentation. Fermentation is the process of transforming the carbohydrates in your prebiotic to organic acids and alcohol. The prebiotic serves as a fermentation substrate. These acids and alcohol will then be used to stimulate the activity or growth of your beneficial microorganisms.
- Last, but definitely the most difficult and important criteria, is that the prebiotic must be able to activate the growth or stimulate the activity of your intestinal beneficial bacteria.
What Prebiotics Do in Detail…
- Increase the probiotic activity and growth in your large intestine. This is the main reason why you should supplement your probiotic with prebiotics. They work hand in hand and may help you recover from the following conditions:
- Acute gastroenteritis also known as infectious diarrhoea. Antibiotics given for this can also the population of good bacteria in your large intestine as well as the bad bacteria. Prebiotics energise your weakened friendly bacteria, sort of like giving first aid to wounded soldiers in battle. In addition, recruit more troops, i.e. take a probiotic supplement which contains live beneficial bacteria. Together they help to rescue your large intestine and overpower the bad bacteria in order to stop the diarrhoea.
- Vaginal yeast infections and urinary tract infections. What happens in your intestinal tract also happens in your urinary tract and female reproductive tract. The battle between good and bad bacteria surges on. Again, prebiotics can help power up the population of good bacteria, arming them with the necessary tools they need to win the battle.
- Prebiotics and probiotics may also help to reduce the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, prevent eczema in children, lower the severity of cough and flu symptoms and increase your rate of recovery from intestinal infections.
- Maximise the absorption of calcium, magnesium and other minerals.
- Preliminary studies have also suggested that prebiotics may reduce the occurrence of intestinal polyps, adenomas and cancers in the gut.
- Inulin and oligofructose (aka FOS) may help decrease elevated blood levels of cholesterol (hypercholesterolemia) and triglycerides (hypertriglyceridemia).
Familiarise yourself with these weird sounding names…
Lastly, the following is a list of top ten foods that contain some of the prebiotics mentioned above by weight. Enjoy!
|Foods (in order of prebiotic %)
||Prebiotic content by percentage of weight
||Another point for our favourite fruit!
|Whole Wheat flour, Cooked
|Raw Wheat bran
||Garlic and onions less known cousin.
|Raw Dandelion Greens
||Best for salads and sandwiches!
|Raw Jerusalem Artichoke
||A substitute for potatoes. Best steamed, though this reduces inulin content.
|Raw Chicory Root
||Used as a coffee additive in the Mediterranean region.
||The heavyweight in terms of prebiotic content! Used as an emulsifier in chewing gum, fillings, icing and other treats.
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Take your pick of the prebiotic foods to feed your colonies of good bacteria and keep them happy. Also, next time you take a probiotic supplement look out for one that contains prebiotics as part of the formula. A synergistic blend will help to restore your gut back to good health.
- Hattner, Jo Ann, and Susan Anderes. Gut Insight: Probiotics and Prebiotics for Digestive Health and Well-Being. United States: Gut Insight, 2009.
- Mullin, Gerard E., and Kathie Madonna Swift. The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health. New York, NY: Rodale, 2011.
- Moshfegh AJ, Friday JE, Goldman JP, Ahuja JK (July 1999). “Presence of inulin and oligofructose in the diets of Americans”. Journal of Nutrition 129 (7 Suppl): 1407S–1411S