Prebiotics are food for beneficial bacteria. They are not just a soluble or insoluble fiber, they actually don’t squarely fit into either of these categories. They are indigestible carbs, similar to insoluble fiber, but they only become prebiotics when “good” gut microbes are able to feed on them. When “bad” gut microbes are able to ferment soluble fiber, this is what produces gastrointestinal discomfort.
The lining of your gut, like every surface of your body, is covered in microscopic creatures, mostly bacteria. These organisms create a micro-ecosystem called the microbiome. And though we don’t really notice it’s there, it plays an oversized role in your health and can even affect your mood and behavior.
Not surprisingly, what you feed your microbiome may have the biggest impact on its health. And the healthier it is, the healthier you are. The key to a healthy microbiome is nourishing a balance among the nearly 1,000 different species of bacteria in your gut.
There are two ways to maintain this balance — helping the microbes already there to grow by giving them the foods they like (prebiotic) and adding living microbes directly to your system (probiotic).
Prebiotics are naturally occurring, non-digestible food components that are linked to promoting the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. Simply said, they’re “good” bacteria promoters. Prebiotics may improve gastrointestinal health as well as potentially enhance calcium absorption.
They include fructooligosaccharides, such as inulin and galactooligosaccharides. But rather than focusing on these lengthy words, include more prebiotics in your day by eating more fruits, vegetables and whole grains such as bananas, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, beans and whole-grain foods.
Most Dieticians will recommend increasing your intake of dietary fiber as a simple way to increase your intake of prebiotics. There is some truth to this as most prebiotics are dietary fibers, but not all dietary fibers are prebiotics, so it’s hard to say if high-fiber foods also mean they are high in prebiotics.
This makes it a little tricky when trying to navigate nutrition claims on food products. Just remember to check the label if you’re purchasing a pre-packaged food product for any of the prebiotic ingredients we listed above.
Ultimately, prebiotics and probiotics work together. Prebiotics are the breakfast, lunch and dinner for the live probiotics, which can help improve gut health.
Incorporating health-promoting functional foods, such as those containing both prebiotics and probiotics, aids in creating a healthier you. On the menu, that might mean enjoying bananas atop yogurt or stir-frying asparagus with tempeh.