The vast majority of people know that foods that provide probiotics and dietary fiber deliver many different health benefits. Yet, prebiotic foods are one of the least used foods. Generally speaking, Americans don’t eat as many prebiotics as recommended per day.
As a result of that, many of them experience indigestion, poor immune function, high levels of inflammation, increased chances of developing different chronic diseases and higher chances of weight gain.
The fact is that probiotic foods are crucial for gut health and our wellbeing in general. In addition, prebiotics improves the activity of probiotics. So, by using these two compounds together, you can get the most of both.
Prebiotics: What Are They?
There are many different definitions of prebiotics, but the simplest one describes them as a special kind of non-digestible fiber structures.
Similar to many other foods rich in fiber, prebiotic substances (like the ones that are part of jicama, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions and dandelion greens), go through the higher part of the GI tract and stay undigested because our bodies are unable to break them down completely.
When they exit the small intestine, they enter the colon and this is where they are processed with the help of the gut microflora.
Prebiotics are actually a kind of fiber known as oligosaccharides. Nowadays, when scientists talk about fiber, they usually think about an entire group of various chemical compounds that are part of different foods, like polysaccharides, inulin, fructooligosaccharides and other kinds of oligosaccharides.
In the beginning, prebiotics was not considered fiber compounds. However, the latest scientific studies have confirmed that they act in exactly the same way as other types of fiber. Nowadays, prebiotic carbs that are found in humans mostly include galactans and fructans, compounds that are processed by anaerobic bacteria located in our large intestine.
The Joint Activity of Prebiotics and Probiotics is good for our Health
So, in the last few years, more and more people have become aware of the health benefits of probiotics and one of the reasons for that is the increased availability of fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut, and kimchi. However, prebiotics are still not very popular.
Every kind of fiber that people can take by eating whole, natural foods are important for our digestive health, gut health, and absorption. As a matter of fact, prebiotics and probiotics act in a way that can improve our overall health and every person can afford to use them more frequently.
Due to the fact that prebiotics have an ability to pass the stomach structures without being affected by digestive enzymes and gastric acids and they have specific properties, it is not a surprise that they bring benefits to the digestive organs and GI tract.
In a way, prebiotic substances are useful nutrient sources or as some people call them – fuel for the useful bacteria that dwell in the gut.
It’s also good to point out that prebiotics and probiotics can work together and provide certain positive changes to happen in the activity and the composition of the GI system. It turns out that they are very important in keeping us healthy by preserving diversity and balance of intestinal bacteria.
This is especially true when it comes to good bacteria known as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.
Since our gut health is related to a huge number of bodily functions, prebiotics, as well as probiotics, are very important for combating inflammation and reducing the risk of many diseases.
Consumption of more prebiotics has been related to a myriad of health benefits like:
– Stabilization of cholesterol levels
– Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
– Enhanced digestion
– Improved gut health
– Improved hormonal balance
– Reduced stress response
– Improved immune function
– Reduced autoimmune and inflammation reactions
– Reduced chances of experiencing weight gain and obesity
Top 7 Health Benefits of Prebiotics
1. Improved gut health and enhanced digestion
Prebiotics supports the development of beneficial bacteria also known as probiotics that dwell in the gut microflora. Due to the fact that they serve as food for probiotics, prebiotics brings balance in this part of the digestive system by reducing the activity of dangerous bacteria and toxins that dwell in the digestive tract.
There are many benefits related to this activity, but the best one is enhanced digestion. Initial studies have confirmed that higher prebiotic food intake can boost different probiotic microorganisms like L. reuteri, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, bifidobacteria and specific strains of L. casei and L. acidophilus group.
Another great advantage of having good bacteria in this part of the body is the fact that they can utilize fiber that comes from the food we consume. Without them, this fiber could not be processed.
The useful gut bacteria metabolize these fibers and create short-chain fatty acids which ultimately improve our health in different ways.
For instance, one of these fatty acids is known as butyric acid and it can enhance the intestinal lining health. In addition, short-chain fatty acids are able to balance the levels of electrolytes in the body like calcium, magnesium, sodium and water and all these elements are crucial for normal digestion, triggering bowel movements, keeping us safe from diarrhea and more.
The unexpected modifications of the gut microbiota structure are usually mentioned as one of the factors that contribute to the emergence of problems like irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease.
A scientific report revealed five years ago in the famous Journal of Nutrition points out that prebiotics, together with probiotics, are able to help reverse many different digestive issues like:
– Specific kinds of intestinal infections as well as some chronic disorders including ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
– Inflammatory bowel disease
– Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome or IBS
– Candida virus
– Leaky gut syndrome
2. Improve immune function and protection from cancer
Many different scientific studies have shown that consumption of specific foods that contain a significant amount of prebiotics can lead to drastic changes in the gut microbiota structure which result in enhanced immunity.
The so-called prebiotic effects have been linked to alteration of biomarkers and immune system activities like lowering of the level of enzymes that promote the formation of cancer and bacterial metabolites in the gut.
It is also worth mentioning that prebiotics helps people enhance the quality of stool (texture and frequency), lower the chances of developing infections and gastroenteritis, enhances wellbeing in general and lowers the occurrence of allergic reactions.
Both prebiotics and probiotics are able to improve immunity because they can also improve our body’s capability to absorb crucial trace minerals and nutrients from every food we consume.
In addition, they can also lower the levels of pH in the gut and this activity block the expansion of potentially harmful bacteria and pathogens. Studies have suggested promising things for the immune system, especially when prebiotics and probiotics are taken together.
These compounds act in different ways to improve immunity. For instance, they are preventing or treating urinary tract infections, colds, and common flu, digestive problems, vaginal yeast infections, cognitive problems and cancer especially colon cancer. Colon cancer which is usually linked to toxic overload is a clear example of pathology related to the work of gut microbiota.
Several scientific studies have indicated a lower occurrence of cancer cells and tumors in individuals who are taking more prebiotic foods.
3. Reduced inflammation
Prebiotics has the ability to reduce inflammation and as you are probably aware, this is one of the main causes of different diseases like heart disease for example. Individuals that take more prebiotics, and those who are following a diet rich in fiber, usually have more normal cholesterol levels and a reduced level of risk markers for different cardiovascular diseases.
Many experts are convinced that both prebiotics and probiotics are improving the metabolic processes that are closely related to type-2 diabetes and obesity. In addition, a gut environment that is healthy inhibits autoimmune reactions, aids the process of nutrient absorption and processing (fats included) and enhances immune and hormonal functions that manage the storing of fats.
4. Lower chances of developing a heart disease
Taking foods rich in prebiotics can lower the levels of glycation, which boosts free radicals, stimulates inflammation and reduces insulin resistance.
Prebiotics has hypocholesterolemic properties, which mean that they enhance our ability to protect ourselves from an autoimmune disease like arthritis and ischemic heart diseases. In addition, these compounds can balance the levels of minerals and electrolytes in the body (sodium, potassium etc.) and these compounds are crucial for blood pressure management.
5. Aid with weight maintenance and weight loss
The results from a few animal and human studies have confirmed that specific prebiotic foods can bring benefit to energy homoeostasis, reduced body weight gain and satiety management. Increased intake of any kind of fiber is associated with lower body weight and reduced chances of obesity.
A scientific study conducted in 2002 and revealed in the popular British Journal of Nutrition confirms that prebiotic food products provide a sense of satiety, keep us safe from obesity and support weight loss.
The impact they have on the level of hormones is tied to appetite management. Animal studies have shown that animals that have received prebiotics create less ghrelin, a compound that notifies the brain that we must eat.
6. Keep our bones healthy
A scientific study conducted ten years ago and revealed in the Journal of Nutrition has suggested that prebiotics has the ability to improve mineral absorption in the body, especially when it comes to calcium, iron, and magnesium. These minerals are vital for keeping our bones strong and healthy and avoiding osteoporosis and fractures.
Another study where subjects have taken 8 grams of prebiotics per day has confirmed that there is a significant improvement in calcium absorption which resulted in improved bone density.
7. Hormone harmonization and enhanced mood
Studies related to the connection between gut and brain are just initial studies, but the first results suggest that many disorders related to our mood including depression and anxiety are closely related to gut health.
Studies indicate that our hormonal balance and mood are directly affected by numerous factors including the level of bacteria in the gut. On the other hand, the gut supports the metabolic processes and absorption of nutrients we take from the food we consume that are later used to enhance the work of neurotransmitters that make hormones that manage our mood and help eliminate stress.
The ultimate factor that leads to the emergence of mood-related disorders might be related to the numerous misfiring neurotransmitters in different brain parts that manage fear and some other emotions. The health of the microbiome partially affects the transmissions. In other words, when the gut bacteria balance is not okay, many other biological pathways like immunological, hormonal and neuronal are not working properly either.
The latest scientific studies in this field have shown that prebiotics brings strong neurobiological effects in the brain like reduction of cortisol levels and stress response rates.
An older study revealed in the Journal of Psychopharmacology was focused on analyzing the effects of two popular prebiotics on the production of cortisol (stress hormone) and emotional processing in adults. The group of volunteers that has received one prebiotic has experienced positive effects in cortisol level reduction.
The best foods for prebiotics
Specific veggies, sources of resistant starch including under-ripe bananas, certain whole grain and honey are some of the primary sources of prebiotics.
When it comes to probiotic, some useful foods include kefir, yogurt, kombucha, kimchi and cultured vegetables.
Now let’s list the ultimate natural sources of prebiotics:
– Raw chicory root
– Acacia gum
– Raw dandelion greens
– Raw Jerusalem artichoke
– Raw leeks
– Raw garlic
– Raw jicama
– Cooked or raw onions
– Under-ripe bananas
– Raw asparagus
Of course, there are some other useful sources of prebiotics like foods that are rich in isolated carbs (trans galactooligosaccharides and galactooligosaccharides) including wheat dextrin, raw, organic honey, whole grain wheat, psyllium husk and whole grain corn.
In case you believe that the list is a little bit short and you are not sure how to use these foods as part of your daily diet, keep reading because we have some tips for you.
– According to many experts, one of the simplest and most enjoyable ways to includes prebiotics to your diet is to use onions. These veggies packed with nutrients can be used raw or cooked and they are known for their ability to make the food tastier. Onions are rich in inulin, a kind of good bacteria that combats indigestion. Don’t hesitate to use onions in dishes like dips, salads, sauces, soups. You can also grill them on the barbecue too.
– Another great prebiotic food is raw garlic. Besides that, the list of health benefits provided by garlic is very long – prevents cancer and provides antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antifungal effects. Use raw garlic in homemade hummus, spreads, dips and tomato salad.
– Under-ripe bananas have a high amount of prebiotics and starch. So, opt for greenish bananas and enjoy their numerous health benefits. You can eat them raw or as part of desserts or smoothies.
– If you are looking for a food rich in prebiotics that is available in many grocery stores, choose dandelion greens. The leafy green veggies are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants too. Use them raw in side dishes and salads.
– In case you are not a great fan of raw asparagus, you should know that you can ferment this food. It is not difficult to prepare homemade fermented asparagus – all you need is salt and a clean mason jar. We can say the same for jicama – you can slice jicama into thin pieces and use them in a fresh salad or prepare some jicama sticks.
– Jerusalem artichokes, or sunchokes as some people call them, have characteristics that make them closer to root veggies than to large green artichokes. Feel free to shred them and add some in your salad, smoothie or even into a dip. Jerusalem artichokes have a mild taste and they can blend well with different tastes.
– Many people use chicory root for baking because it can connect all the ingredients. In addition, this veggie is rich in antioxidants and acts as an efficient natural digestive cleanser. There are some people that use chicory root when they are preparing cultured vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi. This root is used as a substitute for coffee too.
– Acacia gum is part of many different products like powders, supplements and ice cream. When it comes to folk medicine, acacia gum is utilized as a binding agent in pills and lozenges. Health food stores have acacia powder that can be used in smoothies.
– Prebiotics, as well as probiotics, can be added to certain foods in the form of dietary supplements. There are food manufacturers that make foods that are rich in fiber, however many of them rely on isolated fiber sources that our bodies cannot digest properly.
So, intake of fiber and prebiotics that comes from whole, natural foods is the best option you have. Of course, supplementing based on high-quality probiotic supplements that include prebiotic is a good option too, but this practice cannot replace the practice of eating healthy, well-balanced foods.