Prebiotics, the Key to Probiotic Success

April 05, 2013

Probiotics are on everyone's radar, but did you know that their success depends on prebiotics? Find out where to get prebiotics on your next shopping trip here

To follow up last week’s article about probiotics, this week were talking prebiotics. To start off, here's a little reminder: your gastrointestinal tract, aka your gut, is full of good bacteria. These bacteria perform many functions; they aid in digestion, enhance immunity, help regulate hormone balance, and guard against food poisoning. The natural bacteria also synthesize essential nutrients like vitamin K, vitamin B12, and biotin, as well as short chain fatty acids. Medications, stress, and poor diet can affect the balance of bacteria in our gut, most often the good bacteria get wiped out.

We’ve all heard a ton about probiotics (more here), especially those found in yogurt (with live and active cultures), and how consuming foods with probiotics can help replace and replenish these good bacteria, but we haven’t really heard much about prebiotics which are essential to the proper functioning of probiotics.

Prebiotics are the substances in foods that promote the growth and feed the healthy bacteria. The most prevalent forms of prebiotics are soluble fibers. Our bodies cannot digest prebiotics, but the good (lactic acid) bacteria in our gut can digest them for energy. Once digested, the products are used to support the intestinal walls as well as the growth of beneficial bacteria. Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) are prebiotics widely available in plant foods. They are found in many fruits and vegetables, including: broccoli, kale, green cabbage, onions, leeks, garlic, artichoke, bananas, oranges, whole wheat, oats, barley, rye, chicory root, flax, and berries.

Current findings suggest the best way to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria is to eat a combination of prebiotic and probiotic foods. For example, try adding yogurt to your morning oatmeal or whole grain cereal, or include greens lightly sautéed with garlic and onions as a side dish with dinner or lunch.

Maintaining the health of our gut is essential to overall wellbeing, which includes taking care to include plenty of prebiotic rich foods in our diets. Researchers believe that prebiotics may aid in the relief of conditions such as diarrhea, constipation and other gut disturbances, as well as reduce the risk for obesity, osteoporosis, and type II diabetes – due to the bacteria’s ability to bread down and increase the bioavailability of certain nutrients.

If you do not regularly include the foods mentioned above in your diet, start slow as high fiber foods may cause stomach upsets. Make sure to include plenty of water as this will help fiber pass through your system. Eventually, the good bacteria will build up in the gut and stomach troubles will cease. Of course everyone is individual and some people have a hard time digesting FOS; as always speak with your health care provider before making changes to your diet.