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What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotic foods and gaining popularity, but how essential are they to a living a healthy life, how do we incorporate them into our diet, and just what are prebiotics?

“All disease begins in the colon.” Hippocrates, father of modern medicine, 2400 years ago

Digestion is both difficult and crucial to human health. We must be able to take whole foods and render them down to molecules that can pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream, without creating havoc.

Having a well functioning gut micro biome, home to 100 trillion microbes, requires prebiotics from the foods you consume. Carbohydrates are either simple (sugars) or complex (starches). Carbohydrates can be either digestible or indigestible, which is fiber or resistant starches. These indigestible food particles feed your friendly bacteria and keep them happy.

These helpers are commensal bacteria. You and the bacteria have the perfect symbiotic relationship, they help in digestion, protect you from harmful toxins and other bacterial agents/ They maintain the health of your lower digestive tract, including your bowels, while you provide the food, particularly prebiotic fiber, they need to grow and replicate.

Prebiotics are indigestible starches that feed your friendly bacteria. Probiotics are microorganisms themselves that re-colonize the gut to maintain a healthy balance of aerobic and anaerobic microbes. Probiotics include fermented foods, like yogurt, kimchi, tempeh, and sauerkraut.

Best prebiotic foods

Any food that is rich in non-soluble and non-digestible fibers is high in probiotics, the following are examples of these foods:

Prebiotic Fiber

  1. Chicory root: As 65% of its weight is fibers, it is considered one of the richest foods in prebiotics. Best to be eaten raw for the fiber content
  2. Artichoke: Around 32% of their weight is fiber, hence they are very rich in prebiotics.
  3. Parsley and dill: containing around 20% of their weight as fibers, plus they are very rich in vitamin C.
  4. Pineapple: And you thought nothing sweet would enter this list, but pineapples have around 18% of weight as fibers.
  5. Apples with the skin: around 15% of their weight is fiber, rich in prebiotics.
  6. Onion and garlic: Aside from the great benefits you get from them in the form of antioxidants, they also contain up to 15% fibers, again they are rich foods in prebiotics. Garlic has many powerful healing qualities
  7. Whole grain: A very good source for Vitamin B and starch, also have around 7% of their weight as fibers.
What Are Prebiotics?

Foods that are rich in probiotics

Most of the fermented and bacteria-rich foods are also rich in probiotics such as:

  1. Yogurt: is the prime example of probiotics rich food, and the fact that it is quite easily accessible to any household makes it even more important for its role as a source of probiotics.
  2.  Kefir: The Turkish drink of milk with fermented kefir is very rich in probiotics and is linked to a lot of health benefits that are not limited to its effect on the gut, it is also a very good nutrient for bone growth and the health of the teeth. Even though it is not as readily accessible as yogurt, it is actually the richest source of probiotics that you can consume. Kefir is actually not a grain, it is really lactic acid bacteria and yeast cultures that resemble cauliflower in shape. Read more about Kefit health benefts
  3. Sauerkraut: The Germanic ancient dish of fermented cabbage is also a rich source of probiotics.
  4. Tempeh: The Indonesian fermented soybean-based food is a very rich source of probiotics, especially favored by vegans as a good meat substitute.
  5. Pickled cucumbers: Another readily accessible food that goes through fermentation thus giving you a healthy quantity of probiotics.
how to be healthy with kefir

Prebiotic Benefits

Now that you are familiar with both prebiotics, probiotics and the different types of food that are rich in both and are easily accessible to add to your daily diet, let’s discuss the many probiotic and prebiotic benefits and why they are good for your health.

  1. As discussed at the beginning of the article, prebiotics have many benefits and help maintain the health of your gut facilitating better digestion and better absorption of nutrients. But the story doesn’t end here, your commensal bacteria use the probiotics to create butyric acid, which is a short chain fatty acid.
  2. Prebiotics help feed the friendly bacteria to create more hydrogen gas, which is absorbed into the bloodstream and performs many valuable functions in the body. Short chain fatty acids help to maintain the health of the lining of the intestine, regulate the electrolyte absorption and help to stop diarrhea.
  3. Prebiotics could be the perfect way to naturally deal with IBS, as the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome range from diarrhea to constipation. Prebiotics help to limit all these symptoms by enhancing the functions of the probiotics in your gut.
  4. Prebiotics help to boost your immune system, through maintaining the health of the probiotics, you help to decrease inflammation of the intestine, boost the elimination process of harmful bacteria and toxins. These many prebiotic benefits contribute to boosting your immune system.
  5. Prebiotic fibers reduce the incidence of heart problems, it is a known fact that high fiber food is good for your health, especially your heart. Through decreasing glycation which is the bonding of sugars without an enzymatic action, they decrease the presence of free radicals in your blood stream. Free radicals increase insulin resistance, peripheral inflammation of the small blood vessels and eventually increase the peripheral load on the heart leading to heart disease.
  6. The help in strengthening your bones and teeth, since they help to regulate electrolyte absorption, they enhance the absorption of calcium and this maintains the strength of your bones and your teeth.
  7. Prebiotics and probiotics enhance your mood through their function in maintaining the health of your gut, they help reduce stress and this in turn, enhances your mood.
  8. Prebiotics help with weight loss by regulating the digestion and the health of the gut. Prebiotics helps you to reach satiety faster and for longer periods o time, this helps you to decrease intake of starch filling foods. This helps to decrease and regulate your weight.

With the above clarification of what prebiotics are, and the importance of prebiotic fiber, consider adding a prebiotics rich food to your daily diet to enjoy a healthier life.

Dr. Patrick Quillin

Dr. Patrick Quillin, PhD,RD,CNS is an internationally recognized expert in the area of nutrition and health. He has 30 years experience as a clinical nutritionist, of which 10 years were spent as the Vice President for a leading cancer hospital system where he worked with thousands of cancer patients in a hospital setting. He is a Best Selling Author with 18 books which have sold over 2,000,000 copies and also a Keynote Speaker.