Years ago, I remember reading an advertisement on a cereal box that said “Prebiotic Rich”. I thought, huh, what the heck is a prebiotic? Maybe they made a mistake and meant to write “Probiotic Rich”. When I got home, I looked it up and sure enough, prebiotics are a thing. Little did I know at the time how important prebiotics are to our health.
WHAT ARE PREBIOTICS?
Prebiotics are essentially food for probiotics. “Prebiotic” is a term used for the different types of fiber that feed our gut bacteria, but not us. Humans are not capable of digesting these fibers, although they are important to our health because they are the main food source for the bacteria that reside in our gut.
When we eat prebiotics fibers, they travel through the entire small intestine relatively undigested. As they reach our large intestine, our gut bacteria start fermenting them. It is this fermentation that provides us with the health benefits (source).
WHAT CAN PREBIOTICS DO FOR ME?
We cannot benefit from prebiotics directly, but with the help of our gut microbiome, we can incur some pretty stellar health benefits from these fibers. If we eat a diet devoid of prebiotics, we end up starving our gut bacteria, which can result in a long list of unfortunate health conditions. The good thing for us is this is relatively simple. All we need to do is eat a prebiotic rich diet, and/or supplement with prebiotic fibers. Here is a list of health benefits we garner from eating prebiotics.
- Improved Gut Function – Prebiotics feed our gut bacteria, stimulating their growth, diversity, and multiplication. This results in a larger variety of healthy bacteria in our large intestine. When we feed the good bugs, they grow and crowd out the bad bugs. This results in less constipation, less diarrhea, better digestion and improved overall gut health (source).
- Constipation – I know I mentioned this in the last point, but so many people suffer from constipation I wanted to emphasize it again. Daily supplementation with prebiotics can relieve constipation (source, source).
- Short-Chain Fatty Acid Production – Our gut bacteria ferment prebiotics into short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs such as butyrate, acetate and propionate are health superstars. They reduce the risk of developing gastrointestinal disorders, cancer, and cardiovascular disease (source). This is huge because all three of these diseases are incredibly common in North America.
- Butyrate -Butyrate, in particular, has some heavy hitting health benefits. It extinguishes inflammation, nourishes and feeds our gut lining, heals gut permeability and improves cold resistance. It also has been used to treat irritable bowel disease, can lower blood cholesterol, has powerful anti-cancer actions, and helps to regulate metabolism (source).
- Immunity – Most of our immune sysetm is located in our gut. Our immunity is, therefore, intimately connected to our gut microbiome. A healthy diverse microbiome is associated with a strong immune system. Prebiotics enhance the diversity and quality of our microbiome, consequently boosting our immunity (source).
- Inflammation – A happy, well-fed gut microbiome reduces chronic low-grade inflammation (source). This is great news because chronic disease stems from chronic inflammation.
- Stress Management – Along with yoga, hiking, and meditation, eating prebiotics can be added to your list of stress management techniques. Prebiotics, amazingly, reduces our cortisol level and helps us manage our stress better (source).
- Metabolic Disorders – Improving the gut microbiome using prebiotics and probiotics, can help metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease by improving insulin sensitivity and reducing cholesterol (source).
- Weight Loss – Weight loss may be encouraged with prebiotic fibers (source). In this study, obese participants took 21 grams of inulin per day. This decreased their hunger hormone and increased their fullness hormone, which aided their weight loss.
- Antibiotics – It is well known that antibiotics reduce the diversity of bacteria in our gut microbiome. Inulin may help mitigate these effects and improve gut bacteria diversity after antibiotic use (source).
This list is not exclusive. Research is discovering new health benefits of prebiotics every day.
WHERE TO FIND PREBIOTICS
Prebiotics are found in certain vegetables. The best food sources include raw chicory root (Italian dandelion), raw garlic, raw onion, raw leek, raw sunchokes, raw dandelion greens, and raw jicama.
Resistant starch, which is a type of prebiotic fiber, is found in green bananas, green plantains, cooked then cooled potatoes, cooked then cooled rice, and lentils. In fact, when potatoes and white rice are cooked and eaten after they have cooled, they actually lower blood glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity (source). The more times potatoes and rice are heated and cooled, the more resistant starch they develop, and the healthier they are. After they are cooled completely, they can be warmed to eat, but to retain the resistant starch, no higher than 130F.
Supplements are also a great source of prebiotic fiber. Here are some of my favorites:
- Bob’s Red Mill Potato Starch (not potato flour) – this is a great source of resistant starch.
- Green Banana Flour – another great source of resistant starch.
- Glucomannan – a prebiotic from the konjac root.
- Hyperbitoics Organic Prebiotic blend – contains acacia fiber, sunchoke fiber, and green banana flour.
- Thorne Fibermend – another excellent prebiotic blend.
TIPS FOR STARTING PREBIOTICS
- If you read this article and are gung-ho to start eating more prebiotic foods or start taking prebiotic supplements, my suggestion is to START SLOW! Going from eating very few prebiotics to eating a whole bunch at once will cause a lot of bloating and digestive distress. Start low, and slowly work yourself up to a higher dose as your gut can handle it.
- Prebiotics are best used with a good probiotic. Synbiotic is the term used when prebiotics and probitocs are taken together. The probiotics are the actual bugs, whereas the prebiotics are their food. It makes sense to take both.
- Mix it up. Just as humans have different taste in food, different gut bacteria prefer different prebiotics. Switching up your prebiotics will feed a larger variety of bacteria, and a more diverse microbiome is what we are aiming for.
- People with SIBO or fungal overgrowth may not tolerate prebiotics at all. It is best to deal with these conditions before increasing prebiotic intake.
I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Did you know about the health benefits of prebiotics? Do you eat prebiotic-rich foods or take prebiotic supplements?
Lindsay Rusk Health is a dedicated resource for people who are interested in health and improving their health. Therefore, this post may contain affiliate links. These links add no extra cost to you. I only recommend products and brands that I personally use for myself or my family. For more information, see my Terms + Disclosure.