Most people have heard of probiotics, the healthy bacteria that is essential for optimal digestive health. However, prebiotics are not nearly as well understood and most definitely undervalued. Most Americans do not consume nearly enough prebiotics, which are also instrumental in digestion and can help keep a number of chronic conditions at bay.
Prebiotics are a form of non-digestible fiber compound that makes its way down through the digestive tract. Neither digestive enzyme nor gastric acids break down prebiotics. Once they arrive in the gut, prebiotics become fuel for the healthy gut bacteria (probiotics). Both prebiotics and probiotics bothy play a role in the fermentation of food that will sustain a healthy digestive system and maintain a good balance of beneficial gut bacteria.
Gut bacteria diversity:
There are over 1,000 different species of bacteria in the human gut microbiome, each with an important, but different role to play in the body. There are over 40 trillion bacterial cells in the human body and only 30 trillion human cells. This means, bacteria, both good and bad, play a major part in your health. The microbes in your gut weigh as much as 2-5 pounds, roughly the same weight as a human brain. Researchers refer to this collection of bacteria as an organ because they play such a huge role in health.
But, how often do you think of your gut bacteria and its importance? How often do you think about how important prebiotics are to your overall health and wellbeing? Here are some very good reasons to think more about prebiotics and consume them on a daily basis.
7 Reasons You Should Be Eating More Prebiotics
1. Improved Digestion & Gut Health
As mentioned above, prebiotics are like food for probiotics which colonize the microflora in the gut. By fueling probiotics, prebiotics play an integral role in digestive and gut health. Research demonstrates that a higher consumption of prebiotic foods results in more beneficial probiotic organisms.
When the gut microflora is healthy, probiotics will feed on the indigestible fiber compounds in food we eat. In doing so, they produce short-chain fatty acids that are beneficial in numerous ways including improving the health of the intestinal lining.
Short-chain fatty acids are also responsible for regulating electrolyte levels including sodium, magnesium, calcium, and water. These electrolytes are essential for proper digestion, healthy bowel function and preventing diarrhea.
According to a report published in The Journal of Nutrition, prebiotics and probiotics can help remedy a number of digestive problems including:
- inflammatory bowel disease
- candida virus
- leaky gut syndrome
- chron’s disease
- ulcerative colitis
- irritable bowel syndrome symptoms
2. Reduced Inflammation
Inflammation is the root cause of many serious medical conditions including the number one killer in America, heart disease. Consuming a diet high in fiber and prebiotics has been shown to reduce this deadly inflammation and lower the risk markers for cardiovascular diseases.
Prebiotics and probiotics improve metabolic processes that are linked to both obesity and type-2 diabetes. A healthy digestive tract also appears to turn off autoimmune reactions, helps the body to metabolize nutrients better, including fats, and regulates hormonal and immune functions that dictate how and where the body stores fats – such as in the arteries.
3. Enhanced Immunity & Cancer Protection
When our healthy got flora are well populated, our immuinty is stronger. Consuming a diet rich in prebiotics and probiotics helps the body digest vital nutrients. They also lower the pH in the stomach, which retards the growth of pathogens or bad bacteria.
This enhanced immunity has even been seen to reduce the concentration of cancer-promoting enzymes and bacterial metabolites in the stomach. This is especially true with colon cancer that is often associated with a toxic overload. Studies show a reduction in the occurrence of tumors and cancer cells after consuming foods with prebiotics.
According to The British Journal of Nutrition prebiotics, “improve stool quality (frequency and consistency), reduces the risk of gastroenteritis and infections, improves general well-being and reduces the incidence of allergic symptoms,”
The combination of probiotics and prebiotics offers a double punch for infections. Research shows that this combination has super-power immune boosting potential – especially for the following conditions:
- urinary tract infections
- vaginal yeast infections
- colds and flu
- cognitive disorders
- digestive disorders
4. Heart Disease Risk
A diet high rich in prebiotics causes a reduction in glycation, which increases the production of free radicals, triggering inflammation and lowering insulin resistance (a precursor to heart disease). Also, prebiotics have a hypocholesterolemic effect, which helps prevent ischemic heart disease and autoimmune diseases including arthritis. Prebiotics also help balance potassium and sodium levels, which control blood pressure.
5. Improved Moods
You may have heard of the “gut-brain connection.” Although research on this theory is young, it is clear that mood-related conditions such as depression and anxiety are intimately tied to gut health. Both mood and hormone balance are impacted by a number of factors including the health of the gut. This is mainly because the gut is responsible for the absorption and metabolization of nutrients from the foods we eat. These nutrients are used to support neurotransmitter functions that make hormones such as serotonin that regulate moods and help smash stress.
Research shows that prebiotics impact the brain in a major way including the lowering of cortisol, the stress hormone. A study published in The Journal of Psychopharmacology examined the impact of two prebiotics on the release of cortisol and emotional processing in healthy adult participants. Volunteers were given one of the two prebiotics or a placebo for three weeks. At the end of the study period, the volunteers who received the prebiotics showed a positive change in cortisol and heightened emotional processing.
6. Weight Loss
One of biggest challenges to weight loss is remaining full. Foods high in prebiotics, also high in fiber, help to regulate energy balance and help keep you full. A study published in The British Journal of Nutrition found that prebiotics help promote a feeling of fullness and prevent obesity while encouraging weight loss. Studies conducted on animals indicate that test subjects given prebiotics produced less ghrelin, the “hunger hormone” that signals the brain that it is time to eat.
7. Bone Health & Protection
A study published in The Journal of Nutrition found that prebiotics helps the body absorb minerals including magnesium, calcium, and iron. These are all critical for keeping bones strong and preventing osteoporosis and fractures. In one study, as little as eight grams of prebiotics a day had a significant impact on the uptake of calcium in the body, leading to an increase in bone density.
Best Sources of Prebiotics:
Unlike probiotics that are found in fermented foods such as kombucha, kimchi, and kefir, prebiotics are found in a number of vegetables, some whole grains and even raw honey.
The best sources of natural prebiotics include:
- raw garlic
- raw or cooked onions
- raw jicama
- raw asparagus
- raw dandelion root
- acacia gum
- underripe bananas
- raw chicory root
- raw honey
Tips for eating more prebiotics:
It may be well and good for you to understand what foods you should be eating in order to get more prebiotics in your diet, but perhaps you are perplexed on how to practically do so. Here are some tips:
Add onions to meals – Onions, either raw or cooked offer a significant amount of prebiotic benefit. Onions are flavorful and loaded with immune-boosting antioxidants. Add them to soups, stews, salads or grilled dishes.
Banana smoothies – Add bananas that are not quite ripe to smoothies for a prebiotic blast. The best bananas are those that are slightly green with no spots.
Raw garlic – Not only is raw garlic a great source of prebiotics but it is also a powerful antifungal agent and has antiviral, antibiotic and anti-inflammatory properties. Add a little raw garlic to salads, soups or dips.
Fermented asparagus – While many people are not fans of raw asparagus, fermented asparagus is delicious and nutritious. Add asparagus in with other vegetables to make a delicious fermented veggie salad.
Shredded Jerusalem artichokes – These types of artichokes taste best when shredded and added to salads, smoothies or dips.
Supplements – There are a number of supplements on the market that offer a healthy dose of prebiotics.
Eat A Healthy Diet!
The key to a healthy gut begins with a healthy diet. Include raw and fermented foods in your diet daily and your gut will work hard to protect you!