Gut health is on everyone’s mind at the moment, and prebiotic supplements and foods seem to be everywhere. But what, exactly, are prebiotics, and what can they do for your health?
What are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrate compounds. Specifically, they’re a type of fibre best known as ‘oligosaccharides’. Funnily enough, all prebiotics are fibre, but not all fibre is prebiotic.
Prebiotic fibres are the non-digestible parts of foods. They’re known to remain undigested through the small intestine, until they reach the large colon where they’re fermented by gut microflora (bacteria). When they ferment, they stimulate growth or activity of good bacteria in the digestive system, which can provide potential health benefits.
Prebiotics are different to probiotics. In short:
- Probiotics are the good bacteria that are found in the digestive tract. They aid digestion and have other potential health benefits, and are quite often found in fermented foods like kimchi.
- Prebiotics are not alive. They are non-digestible fibres that probiotic bacteria feed upon.
Why Take Prebiotics?
There are many good reasons to make prebiotics a regular part of your diet. By increasing prebiotic intake, research has shown health benefits such as:
- A healthier gut from good bacteria by preventing bad bacteria from entering the gastrointestinal tract
- Ensuring the immune system is functioning properly
- Lowering your risk of weight gain by controlling appetite
- Reducing inflammation associated with inflammatory bowel disease
- Lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases due to a healthier level of cholesterol
- Lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes by improving glucose absorption rate
- Improving and strengthening your digestive system
- Enhancing availability of minerals in the body
- Exerting protective effects of colon cancer
Slavin, J. (2013). Fiber and prebiotics: mechanisms and health benefits. Nutrients, 5(4), 1417-1435.
For the most part, the main source of prebiotics is fibre consumed from dietary sources – that means particular types of fruits, vegetables and carbohydrates. Inulin, which is a soluble dietary fibre, comes from the likes of raw garlic, asparagus and onions – but more on that shortly.
If you’re concerned that you’re not getting enough prebiotics in your diet, prebiotic supplements can provide you with all of the health benefits in an easily consumed concentrated form. You may also get your daily dose of prebiotics from foods that are fortified with prebiotics.
The trouble that man people have is getting enough prebiotics from dietary sources. If you work out, are an athlete or are generally health conscious, then you’ll already know the benefits of supplements. Nutritional supplements are a way of giving your body what it needs in a measured form, where you’re unable to meet requirements in your day to day diet.
A healthy balance of gut bacteria can greatly impact the wellbeing of your digestive system and the strength of your intestinal wall. Prebiotic supplements have been shown to reinforce the gut barrier as a result of having a healthy balance of bacteria.
Is Inulin a Prebiotic?
Yes, inulin is a prebiotic. The difference is that while certain fibres are difficult for your body to digest, inulin is a water-soluble prebiotic fibre that you can also get from onions, leeks, garlic, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, among a wide variety of other foods.
If you find you’re not getting enough prebiotics in your diet, inulin is a prebiotic supplement that comes in easy-to-mix powder form. Simply add 1-2 5g scoops to water or to a shake or smoothie once per day.