It's widely understood probiotics play an integral role in gut health. However, prebiotics, in conjunction with probiotics, provides added benefits to your health.
Below we discuss prebiotics, how they benefit your body, and where to find them in foods you eat. But if you’re looking for prebiotic supplements – and your healthcare provider approves — we recommend the following:
What Are Prebiotics?
The definition of a prebiotic has evolved, but it is widely agreed to use fermentation to stimulate the growth of one or more beneficial bacteria in the gut microbiome.
This fermentation results in various health-promoting compounds produced by the bacteria such as short-chain fatty acids. (Hutkins et al., 2016)
As the body of research has grown, more substances are found to have prebiotic properties. Prebiotics are different from other types of dietary fiber in that they are shown to promote the growth of specific species of bacteria.
Since our bodies cannot digest prebiotics, they are allowed to ferment in the large intestine. As a result, they serve as food for the bacteria leaving in our gut. (Brownawell et al., 2012)
You may already be consuming prebiotics. They naturally occur in food, including specific grains, nuts, and vegetables. Prebiotics are also in many probiotic supplements on the market, as well as standalone supplements.
The interaction prebiotics have with the good bacteria living in your gut is an important one. Research consistently shows that prebiotics provide several health benefits, some of which are unique to particular prebiotics. (Carlson, Erickson, Lloyd, & Slavin, 2018)
Some of the various health benefits prebiotics offer include:
- Efficient calcium absorption
- Reduced allergy risk
- Increase in immune system function and defenses
- Increase in metabolism and weight loss
Consuming prebiotics through supplements or foods is still the most encouraged and highly recommended ways to obtain prebiotics. (Gibson, Scott, Rastall, et al., 2010)
Prebiotics work in tandem with probiotics to develop and maintain the balance and diversity of bacteria within the gut microbiome. (Cummings & Macfarlane, 2002)
This balance and diversity are responsible for the functioning of several important mechanisms of the body, including fighting inflammation and decreasing the risk of disease. By strategically selecting one or more daily prebiotics, you can reap several health benefits such as:
- Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
- Improved gut health
- Improved digestion
- Improved hormonal balance
- Increase in immune system functioning
- Increase in immune system defense
- Decreased risk of obesity
- Reduced risk for autoimmune disorders
- Improved bone health
- Improvement in mental health
Where to Find Natural Sources of Prebiotics
There are several natural sources to obtain prebiotics, including vegetables, whole grains, and foods that contain resistant starch. These foods are a great way to get prebiotics, and they also deliver added vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are beneficial to your health.
Prebiotic foods to add to your diet to boost gut health include:
- Rice (cooked and cooled)
- Raw potato starch
- Potatoes (cooked and cooled)
- Green beans
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Unripened bananas
- Raw chicory root
- Raw dandelion greens
- Raw garlic
- Raw leeks
- Raw asparagus
- Raw jicama
Other sources of prebiotics to include in your diet are foods that contain isolated carbohydrates, such as galacto-oligosaccharides and trans-galactooligosaccharides:
- Raw honey
- Green peas
- Lima beans
- Psyllium husk
- Whole-grain corn
Supplements & Dosage
While prebiotics have significant health benefits, some sources may not have the desired effect on your body. For example, food manufacturers that claim to make foods that are high in fiber typically use isolated fiber sources. These sources are especially hard to digest and can act as a laxative when consumed.
If consuming prebiotics through whole-food sources is not an ideal choice, another great source is through the use of supplements. It is vital to look for a supplement that is from a reputable distributor, is high-quality, and is made from real prebiotics. Aways make sure to read the label to ensure there are no fillers, binders, or other artificial ingredients.
Ingredients you will typically see on labels that identify the prebiotics used include:
- Fructans such as inulin and fructooligosaccharides
- Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS)
- Resistant starch
- Oligofructose (fructose)
Stick to the recommended dosage as more is not necessarily better. Sometimes taking more than what is needed can cause gastrointestinal issues. Perhaps the best way to start a prebiotic is at a lower dosage and gradually increase to minimize the chance of running into any side effects.
Additionally, people suffering from SIBO tend to be quite sensitive to specific prebiotics because SIBO sufferers have an inappropriate overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine.
Again, here are some of the better tolerated prebiotics we recommend: