Prebiotics are the food and fuel for beneficial bacteria in your gut. More specifically, prebiotics are forms of fiber that the human body can't digest, but bacteria can.
Bacteria ferment these fibers to produce short-chain fatty acids and certain B vitamins, which in turn can have a range of benefits for overall health.
Prebiotics vs. Probiotics
It's important to note that prebiotics are found in different food sources than probiotics. Probiotics can be found in many fermented foods, including yogurt, kombucha, and sauerkraut. Prebiotics are present in fiber-rich foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Let's take a closer look:
The OG Prebiotics: Oligosaccharides
Oligosaccharides are the most well known category of prebiotics, consisting of dietary fibers found in certain plants. They include fructooligosaccharides, such as inulin, and galactooligosaccharides, which interestingly enough occur naturally in human milk.
Oligosaccharides have been known to support digestion and improve and maintain regularity. They can also play a role in supporting a healthy microbiome.
Ingredients with Oligosaccharides:
Chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes are inulin powerhouses that top the charts for oligosaccharide content. Other plant-based sources of oligosaccharides include:
- Bananas (particularly green bananas) and plantains
While oligosaccharides are beneficial for most people, it is important to note that individuals with IBS or Crohn's disease may experience digestive symptoms associated with oligosaccharide-containing foods. Check out these tips from Fodmap Everyday for the best prebiotic-containing foods for a low FODMAP diet.
Healthy Carbs, also known as Resistant Starch
Resistant starch is a type of starch that digestive enzymes can't break down. After resisting digestion in the small intestine, resistant starch ferments in the large intestine. The fermenting fibers then act as a prebiotic and feed the good bacteria in the gut.
Benefits of resistant starch include increased feeling of fullness, reduction or prevention of constipation, and lower risk of high cholesterol or colon cancer. How foods are prepared has a major effect on the ultimate amount of resistant starch in food.
Resistant starches can be found in:
- Uncooked Oats or Muesli
- Green Bananas or Plantains
- Brown Rice
What about Prebiotic Nutritional Products?
There are a lot of benefits to a diet rich in prebiotic ingredients. If you don't have the time to put them together in a recipe, you can find prebiotics in certain nutrition bars (look for "chicory root fiber" on the label) or in over-the-counter supplement products available for purchase in health food stores.