Prebiotics: Eat the foods your gut bacteria love eating

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What are prebiotics?

Foods containing prebiotic fiber compound (non-digestible fiber compounds) is called prebiotic foods.  They are also called oligosaccharides. These fiber compounds act as a food source for the probiotics, which are the organisms present in the human gut.  The probiotics consume the prebiotic and become activated and are known to aid in several health benefits.

Adequate amounts of prebiotic intake would activate the probiotics present in the intestine and help in the normal functioning of the digestive system.  

Prebiotic and probiotic work in tandem to influence the health aspects. These include aiding in digestion, reduce the risk of heart disease, manage cholesterol levels, improve the gut health, monitor the hormonal balance, reduce the risk of obesity and weight gain, as well as fight inflammation and autoimmune disease.  

Plant fibers are the highest source of prebiotic. Some of the prebiotic foods available in the market include dandelion greens, garlic, onions, asparagus, chicory root, bananas, jicama, etc.

What are the key benefits for prebiotics?

Improve your digestion

The probiotic bacteria which are present in the colon make use of the prebiotic fiber that we consume and use them as their food source and become activated.  In some cases, prolonged use of antibiotics, as well as chronic illness, may reduce the number of useful bacteria. This leads to inadequate digestion and causes stomach upset.  Due to this, there are chances for a person to excrete undigested food, as well as cause symptoms such as diarrhea. Prebiotic is helpful in reducing the risk factors for several gastrointestinal problems such as Crohn disease, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, etc.  

Promote better immune system

Prebiotic food activates the probiotics in the body.  This is helpful in the enhancement of gut microbiome. This helps in the absorption of important nutrients, which also supports the immune system to stay active and reduce the pH levels.  Since the bacteria in the gut are activated, it enables the gut to flush out the harmful virus and other pathogens from the gut and also support the immune system by doing this.

Reduce inflammation with prebiotics

Inflammation is the reaction of the immune system when it fights pathogens.  Prebiotic food is helpful in reducing c-reactive proteins. Reduction in c-reactive proteins limits inflammation in the blood vessels.  This causes adequate blood flow which in turn reduces the pressure on the blood vessels and prevents serious heart problems such as heart attack and stroke.  Studies have indicated that this process manages the metabolism of the body. A healthy gut can even help in reducing autoimmune reactions.

Improve your bone health

Several factors are responsible for the bone to lose density as well as strength.  This is a medical condition called osteoporosis. The person affected by osteoporosis can experience pain, stiffness, as well as may break a bone even with simple activities.  Prebiotic is helpful in managing the bone health since they are effective in absorbing the essential minerals required for the bones namely calcium, magnesium, iron, etc. These essential minerals from the gut provide strength and structure to the bones.

Protect your heart from ailments

There are numerous factors contributing to the risk factors for heart disease.  A process called glycation is responsible for the increase in free radicals, cause inflammation, increase blood pressure, as well as lower the insulin resistance.  All these factors are considered to be high-risk factors for heart disease. Prebiotic is helpful in activating the probiotics and reduce the process of glycation. This allows the appropriate absorption of minerals and regulates blood pressure levels, which promotes a healthy heart.

Lose that extra pound

Prebiotic is helpful in managing weight loss since prebiotic foods generally contain high amounts of fibers.  When a person consumes prebiotic foods, there is a feeling of fullness for a prolonged period of time and in this way, the person ends up eating less.  This is helpful in reducing calorie intake. These factors are helpful during a weight loss program.

Manage your hormone levels

Hormones are the molecules produced by the body, which helps in regulating various functions of the organs.  Vagus nerve and enteric nerve play an important role in gut-brain coordination with the help of hormones. Prebiotics provide the energy for the probiotics to help in the process of this coordination.  Hence active probiotics are helpful in managing hormone levels.

Food sources of prebiotics

Some of the important prebiotic foods and their functions are discussed below.

Dandelion Greens:  They promote digestion, a healthy immune system, reduce inflammation, and lower the cholesterol levels.

Asparagus:  They help in lowering the inflammation, as well as promote antioxidant effects.

Bananas:  Bananas are undoubtedly the most loved fruit all over the world.  They are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They help in promoting probiotics in the gut, relax the muscles, as well as reduce the bloating in the stomach.

Apples:  Apples are rich in several nutrients.  They promote antioxidant effect, improve digestion, and also decrease cholesterol.  Apples are also helpful in reducing the risk factors associated with colon cancer.

Onions:  Onions are vegetables which are widely used in many culinary dishes all over the world.  Onions are rich in prebiotic as well as have large amounts of nutrients. They provide the antioxidant effect, improve the immune system, and improve heart health.  Onions may also reduce the risk of cancer.

Garlic:  Garlic is used since ancient times because of the medicinal properties associated with them.  They are rich in prebiotic and also contain antimicrobial properties. They help with digestion, reduce risk factors of cancer, reduce cholesterol, etc.

Chicory root:  It is the root of the chicory plant.  It has a flavor of coffee and is considered to be the alternative for a coffee beverage.  It helps with digestion, prevent early onset diabetes, as well as increase the probiotic in the gut.

Barley:  Barley is a cereal which is widely used all over the world.  It is rich in prebiotic and contains beta-glucan. Beta-glucan is known to improve the probiotic levels in the gut and promote adequate digestion.  They help in reducing cholesterol levels, reduce blood sugar levels, and promote antioxidant effect because of the presence of selenium.

Oats:  Oats are grains, which is consumed as a low-calorie food.  They are rich in prebiotic as well as starch. They reduce cholesterol levels, promote antioxidant effect, and regulate blood sugar level.

Flaxseeds:  Flaxseeds are rich in fiber.  The large content of fiber present in the flaxseeds is helpful in promoting gut health.  They promote antioxidant effect, regulate bowel movements, as well as regulate blood sugar levels.

Jerusalem Artichoke:  It is popularly known as earth apple and is rich in inulin.  Potassium and thiamine are also abundantly found in Jerusalem Artichoke.  They help to improve the immune system, increase the probiotics in the gut, support the nervous system, etc.

Leeks:  Leeks are considered to be a vegetable and the leafy portion of the plant is used in many culinary dishes.  They are similar to garlic and onion. Leeks have high amounts of vitamin K. They are helpful in reducing oxidative stress because of the presence of flavonoids.  

Konjac root:  It is widely known as a corm.  It contains a special ingredient called as glucomannan fiber.  They help to improve the digestion, prevent constipation, lower the cholesterol levels, as well as strengthen the immune system.

Cocoa:  Cocoa is known worldwide for its aroma and taste.  It contains high amounts of flavanols. They are known to promote a healthy cardiovascular system.  This is accomplished when cocoa gets converted to nitric oxide in the colon. Nitric oxide, in turn, helps in reducing cholesterol levels and promotes a healthy heart.

Yacon root:  Yacon root resembles the sweet potatoes and is also used as a sweetener.  Fructooligosaccharides is the main ingredient present in Yacon root. It promotes antioxidant effect, improves the immune system, as well as regulate the blood fats.

Jicama root:  Jicama root is also called as Mexican turnip.  Mexican turnip contains high amounts of vitamin C.  Important functions include lowering the blood sugar, improve digestion, as well as promote insulin sensitivity.

Are there any side-effects of prebiotics?

Prebiotic is generally helpful for the body and hardly cause any side effects when consumed in the natural form.  Prebiotic is mainly fiber content and may cause some stomach problems when introduced in high quantities. It is always advised to increase the quantity of prebiotic gradually over time rather than rushing through.  Since fiber-rich foods are known to absorb more amount of water, it is advised to drink an adequate amount of water when consuming prebiotic foods.

Prebiotics: Mystery revealed

Prebiotic foods serve as the food for the trillions of probiotics present in the gut.  Many people are aware of probiotics, but there are only a few people who are aware of prebiotics.  This fact is quite surprising since it is one of the most important nutraceuticals that is used in various functions of the body.  Prebiotics and probiotics work in tandem to help normal functioning of the intestinal tract.

They help increase the numbers of probiotics to promote digestion and aid in several other health benefits.  A healthy gut is directly linked to the overall health of your body. At the present time, there is not enough scientific evidence available to recommend the daily intake of prebiotics. On an average 25 to 30 grams of prebiotic intake per day should be adequate for both men and women.  

It is not surprising to know that an average person consumes only half of that estimated dose of prebiotics due to the abnormal diet. There are numerous foods available to choose from. Since prebiotic is mainly fiber, it may be a bit difficult for the body to adjust when it is consumed in high doses.  

The quantity of prebiotic foods needs to be increased gradually over a period of time. Fiber is also known to absorb large quantities of water and hence it is also advised to consume an adequate amount of water when consuming prebiotic foods.

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