What’s So Great About Prebiotics

What’s So Great About Prebiotics

By now, you likely know all about probiotics. At the very least, you’ve heard the word and you know you and the wee ones need to eat more of them. They’ve been quite buzz worthy the last several years and you can find everything from OJ to cheese fortified to add more of these healthy bacteria. Probiotics are the reason the yogurt aisle is THE place to be (and practically an entire aisle unto itself) and one of the reasons Greek yogurt is King of that aisle. But did you know that without prebiotics, probiotics may not be doing you much good at all?

Mini nutrition lesson: according to Live Strong, “While probiotics are bacteria, prebiotics are nutrients that encourage the growth of good bacteria in the colon.” They essentially function as a source of energy for these healthy bacteria. Also known as fermentable fibre, prebiotics are sometimes added to food to boost fibre content. They cannot be digested and instead ferment in the intestines. Their presence in the intestines can support an increase in beneficial bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria, according to a 2000 article appearing in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.”

So probiotics are the “good” bacteria that encourage gut health, can help treat diarrhoea, prevent infections and shorten the duration of colds and flu. And since probiotics feed on prebiotics, all those super fortified (and often expensive) foods and supplements with 80 billion active cultures aren’t being put to good work without the fuel provided by prebiotics. And while the takeaway might seem to be a need to balance your intake of both types of foods, in fact, the reality may be even more cut and dry than that.

That’s because prebiotics not only help the probiotics we ingest work. They allow our bodies to produce their own probiotic cultures in the gut. According to a study conducted at the School of Food Biosciences at the University of Reading, “Subjects who consumed a diet high in prebiotic foods increased their intestinal populations of beneficial bacteria by 133 million cells, whereas those who consumed a diet high in probiotic foods saw little change in the size of their intestinal bacteria numbers. Though more research is needed, it appears that consuming prebiotics may be a more effective way of increasing probiotic health than consuming probiotics.”

So, throw out the yogurt and fortified foods? No way! Those are healthy foods with their own benefits. But it might be time to take a look at the grocery list and meal plans and ensure you’re providing your already healthy probiotics foods with the proper fuel to do their job by ramping up your consumption of prebiotic foods.

Here’s the good news: food sources of prebiotics are 1. plentiful and 2. not all gaggy and kid kryptonite. Yay! Good food sources of prebiotics include berries, bananas, oatmeal and legumes. Some yogurts are fortified with them (check ingredient lists for inulin and lactulose). Beans and legumes are also good prebiotic sources making hummus and edamame stellar snacks for building gut flora…and you thought you were just getting them to eat their veggies!

Nifty fact: some of the most effective prebiotics for building human gut flora and a strong immune system are found in breast milk. Scientists are working on studying these enzymes and reproducing them for formula fed babies.

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