Are these the same as probiotics? And how can they help me with my gut health?
You have probably heard of probiotics, but have you heard of the prebiotics? Your gut has several kilos of bacteria living inside it which is a really GOOD thing! Probiotics are bacteria which occur naturally in some foods and they are available as food supplements, they are considered the “good guys” as they help promote a healthy digestive system. Probiotics help to break down food and aid better absorption of nutrients, thereby boosting your immune system and keeping your system in good working order.
Prebiotics on the other hand are fuel for these gut bacteria. They are naturally occurring fibres and sugars found in certain foods that you eat which are unable to be digested in your stomach like many other foods, but when they get to the large bowel where a large proportion of the probiotics hang out, they are able to be used as food for them there.
Prebiotics can help these good bacteria multiply, creating a much healthier gut flora. If we have more “good guys” working for us than “bad guys”, then the outcomes from the processing of our food are likely to be beneficial to not only our gut but for our whole bodies.
It appears that our gut health is connected to our mental health, so improving our gut health is likely to boost our mental wellbeing and vitality. A healthy gut also supports a healthy immune system and has the potential to impact on your weight.
The most well-known prebiotics are inulin and fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and the good news is that they are found naturally in many everyday foods. The first prebiotic you are likely to have had would have been in your mother’s milk which will have contained non-digestible oligosaccharides. Some infant formulas are starting to include these now too.
Prebiotics are found in many common foods such as onions, garlic, leeks, under-ripe bananas, artichokes, asparagus, psyllium husk, kiwifruit, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, and red kidney beans), nuts, seeds, oats, barley, bran and whole grain breads, pastas and rice.
So how can we increase our intake of prebiotics?
- Choose wholegrain breads, pastas and rice
- Eat a high fibre breakfast cereal or oats and add a few extra nuts and seeds
- Add beans, chickpeas and barley to salads/soups
- Add cooked lentils to mince dishes (great with saucy meals like spaghetti bolognaise and burgers, patties or meatballs)
- Snack on fresh fruit and a small amount of nuts
- Check for fibre content in foods and choose foods containing higher amount of fibre
A goal for you!
Aim to include plenty of high fibre foods to ensure that you get sufficient prebiotics to keep your gut bacteria healthy. An extra benefit is that fibre is also considered to be protective against bowel disorders and heart disease, which are two major health issues facing New Zealanders.