Updated: May 4, 2022
The gut microbiome plays a fundamental role in human health.
But how do we keep our microbiome healthy?
One of the answers is prebiotics.
Prebiotics are formally defined as non-digestible food ingredient that beneficially affects the host by selectively stimulating the growth and/or activity of one or a limited number of bacteria in the colon, and thus improves host health.
So where do they come from?
Food Sources Of Prebiotics
Most prebiotics are dietary carbohydrates and the two main kinds are inulin‐type fructans and galacto‐oligosaccharides, although many other categories are under investigation like pectin, non-carbohydrate oligosaccharides and resistant starches.
Prebiotics occur naturally in moderate amounts in foods such as garlic, onion, asparagus, sugar beet, Jerusalem and globe artichoke, wheat, peas, beans, honey, banana, barley, tomato, rye, soybean, human’s and cow’s milk, seaweeds and microalgae.
Different foods contain different types of prebiotics. For instance, bananas have resistant starch and inulin-type fructans, while apples are a source of pectin. Oats and cooled cooked rice contain resistant starches. Polyphenol-rich foods like cocoa and wine may have prebiotic effects.
There’s also psyllium, a dietary fiber widely found on the market that can be considered as having a prebiotic potential.
Psyllium fibre is available in popular products such as all-Bran buds, Metamucil and psyllium husk supplements.
So now that we know where to find them, let’s figure out how they work in our favour.
The Prebiotic Process
Although studies show that different prebiotics function in different ways to offer different benefits, there are two fundamental mechanisms you should be aware of:
They act as “food” for healthy probiotic gut bacteria, thus stimulating the population growth and allowing them to better compete with “less healthy” bacteria.
The probiotic bacteria create compounds known as short-chain fatty acids. These metabolites of probiotic digestion may be biologically active in health and disease states.
The importance of a balanced gut microbiota to maintain a healthy status is widely recognized, which is why these two processes are so fundamental.
Many diseases begin in the digestive tract when beneficial bacteria are overpowered by pathogenic bacteria and an unbalanced microbiome has been linked to several pathologies like celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic disorder.
So how can we make the most of prebiotics in our daily life to reap their protective benefits?
Diet Quality, Prebiotics & Probiotics
We know that the microbiome is a complex and dynamic ecosystem in which species are in continual fluctuation.
We also know that the sum of our prebiotic intake has a significant role to play in ensuring that these probiotic populations that make up our microbiome flourish.
Studies have shown, for example, that beneficial probiotic populations are lessened in the standard western diet that is high in saturated fat and animal protein, as compared to a more Mediterranean diet pattern which tends to be higher in some of the prebiotic foods discussed above.
You can learn more about the Mediterranean Diet here.
So what’s next?
This article was put together in partnership with Kaleigraphy, Andy De Santis RD. It was meant to be a general overview and introduction to prebiotics, but there are so many avenues that I could explore next.
Probiotic consumption and supplementation? A closer look into the specific effects of different prebiotics and their benefits?
Let me know what you guys are most interested in, I can’t wait to share more in the near future!