Prebiotics: What even are they?
A textbook I own published back in 2007 states that 'prebiotics might well prove to be designer carbohydrates of the future' - as they quickly gain more and more attention, its no doubt that the author was correct. Still, they are less widely spoken about in comparison to probiotics. However, they are arguably just as, if not more, important. Without prebiotics, you can’t provide the probiotic bacteria in your gut the correct environment for them to survive and thrive!
What are prebiotics?
Put simply, they are nondigestable substances that act as food for the gut microbiota, essentially helping to stimulate growth/activity of certain healthy bacteria that live in your body. You could see them as a type of 'gut fertiliser', helping to promote the growth of probiotic bacteria. They are a type of indigestable fibre that is found in certain plant foods.
How do they work?
Different to other forms of fibre which encourage the growth of a wide variety of gut microorganisms, prebiotics only support the health promoting ones. This makes them essential establishing good gut health. Research is ongoing to fully establish how they work, but all findings continue to link their consumption with a range of health improvements.
Why are they important?
They are important because they can alter the balance of gut microflora to achieve what is considered to be a healthy/balanced gut microbiota that is predominately saccharoltyic (breaks down carbohydrates). This is key to help maintain a healthy digestive system and boost your immune system.
Prebiotics are credited with many health benefits including but not limited to the modulation of the gut microbiota, improved calcium absorption, lower inflammation, improved blood glucose and insulin profiles and weight management.
How can I get more of them into my diet?
You can find prebiotics in dietary supplement form, however, the best way to get more prebiotics in your diet is via plant foods. Some contain more than others and the below list contains foods with some of the highest amounts of prebiotics.
It is worth noting that whilst side effects are rare, too much can lead to gas and bloating. They're also not recommended if you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or FODMAPs intolerances.
Finishing off with a shameless plug...
Our date & pecan grain-ola is packed full of prebiotic fibre from the brewers' spent grain and oats. When served with yogurt (providing probiotics) and fruit (providing more fibre and antioxidants) it makes the perfect gut friendly breakfast!
Holford, P., 2009. The Optimum Nutrition Bible. 2nd edition ed. Kent : Piaktus
Mann, J. & Stewart Trusswell, A., 2007. Essentials of Human Nutriton. 3rd edition ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Noonan, S., Zaveri, M., Macaninch, E. & Martin, K., 2020. Food & mood: a review of supplementary prebiotic and probiotic interventions in the treatment of anxiety and depression in adults. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, Volume 52, p. 53.
Rad, A., Akbarzadeh, F. & Meheabany, E., 2012. Which are more important: Prebiotics or probiotics?. Nutrition, 28(11), pp. 1196-1197.