By Lena Moynihan | Naturopath
You probably have some understanding of probiotics and their significance to digestive health, but have you heard of prebiotics? Interestingly, prebiotics are increasingly considered of more importance to digestive health and the promotion of a balanced gut microbiome.
So what is a prebiotic?
Similar to dietary fibres, prebiotics are not broken down by the body’s enzymes, but pass into the colon where they act as food for the bacteria in the gut.
Specifically they are fermented by, and selectively promote, the growth and/or activity of good bacteria in the colon.
The likely health-promoting effects of prebiotics are diverse. Prebiotics promote positive changes in the gut microbiome, and the fermentation of prebiotics in the gut results in the production of potent anti-inflammatory compounds which have local and systemic effects.
Prebiotics may be protective against the development of colon cancer, obesity, eczema and cardiovascular disease, and may be useful in the treatment of antibiotic-associated or infectious diarrhoea, constipation and dysbiosis.
Examples of prebiotics include fructooligosaccharides (FOS) found in Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onion, leek, chicory root, dandelion and asparagus, and galactooligosaccharides (GOS) found in legumes, cruciferous vegetables, sunflower seeds, pepitas and beetroot.
While not technically prebiotics, certain dietary fibres also promote the growth and activity of bacteria in the gut, including those found in slippery elm, psyllium, brown rice, and oats. Resistant starch is a form of dietary fibre which beneficially modulates the gut microbiome, improves insulin sensitivity, demonstrates anti-inflammatory activity and may assist with weight loss. Foods rich in resistant starch include green bananas or green banana flour, cooked and cooled potatoes, adzuki beans, red lentils, kidney beans, rye, cashews and oats.