Dining, Education, Health & Wellness

I Know What Probiotics Are, So What Are Prebiotics?

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By Nancy M. Ouhib, MBA, RD/N, LD/N


Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, our bodies are largely made up of bacteria. Paying attention to our microbial makeup is pretty important. This is not a new concept. In the words of Hippocrates, all disease begins in the gut. Scientists, researchers, and physicians are now paying much more attention to this. The human microbiome is the new buzzword and hopefully we are waking up to the importance of the microbial aspect of our health.

The human microbiome encompasses the bacterial population on the skin, in the mouth, and in the gut. When the gut microbiome or microbial population is out of balance, there is a condition called gut dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is when the beneficial bacteria of the gut have been killed off and more harmful bacteria have been allowed to proliferate in their absence. There is a healthy balance of bacteria in the gut and we always want to help tip the balance in favor of the beneficial microbes because they function in our best interest. There are two substances that can assist us in maintaining a healthy gut microbiome and those are probiotics and prebiotics.

Last month I discussed probiotics, what they are, and how they help to maintain digestive health in our gut. This month I will discuss prebiotics. Simply put, prebiotics are the food that the probiotics (good bacteria) in your intestinal tract need to stay alive and flourish. Prebiotics are non-digestible fiber and sugars. The most commonly known prebiotics are fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and galactooligosaccharides (GOS.) While their technical names seem long and complicated, these fibers, sugars, and starches have a simple job to do and that is to feed the good guys to maintain that healthy gut flora that we need. Probiotics have the ability to ferment and feed off of these prebiotics.

Good sources of pGrainsrebiotics are fresh produce and whole grains. Food sources of these carbohydrates is better than any over the counter supplement and you get all sorts of additional quality nutrition from these foods that you consume. So, steer clear of the supplement aisle and head to the grocery store to pick up the following fresh food choices to feed your healthy gut.

Whole grains such as oats and corn contain non-digestible fiber. Brown rice, whole grain breads, whole wheat pasta, barley, oatmeal, flax, wheat bran, and chia are also good sources of fiber. These should be included in your diet regularly. Nuts are a good source of prebiotic fiber.

Vegetables and fruits also contain that prebiotic benefit that we all need. Asparagus, leeks, artichokes, garlic, carrots, peas, beans, onions, chicory, jicama, broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower, spinach, kale, and chard are vegetables that have prebiotic fiber. Bananas, blueberries, cherries, apples, pears, oranges, strawberries, cranberries, kiwi, and berries are also good sources.

There is one important point to note in regards to prebiotics. If your gut is not well populated with beneficial bacteria and probiotics, too much of the prebiotics may cause intestinal distress in the form of bloating and gas. Keep in mind that it is probiotics that feed off of, and have the

ability to break down, these fibers and sugars so they must be present. If you have intestinal distress, it may be a sign that you need more probiotic foods in your diet.

So, it should be clear that probiotics and prebiotics exist in your gut in a state of symbiosis. They are present in your intestinal tract to improve the health of your gut microbiome. Purchasing and preparing fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can easily and inexpensively obtain all of this benefit. Happy and healthy shopping.

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