Understanding the benefits of prebiotics


By now most people are familiar with the term “probiotic”, yet many are less familiar with prebiotics, which are just as essential to intestinal health. While a probiotic is a type of live bacteria that promotes healthy gut functioning, a prebiotic is what is necessary for a probiotic to be able to work properly. In other words, a prebiotic is the “food” that feeds probiotics. It is defined as a non-digestible food ingredient that promotes the growth of beneficial microorganisms in the intestines.

Why are prebiotics important?

The gut is sometimes referred to Intestinal health of people on dmay be poor due to toxic waste products that get built up in the blood, the use of multiple medications, common bowel disturbances such as constipation and diarrhea, and inflammation. Because the gut plays an important role in immunity and digestion of carbohydrates and protein, it is essential that dialysis patients take proper steps to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in their gut.

Where are prebiotics found?

The gut is sometimes referred to as the “second brain” as it plays a role in numerous functions in the body including digestion, neurotransmitter production, and immunity. Poor gut health has been associated with a host of diseases and ailments including obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, autoimmunity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and mood disorders. Because prebiotics promote proper functioning of the gut, they can also play a role in helping prevent or manage such conditions. Many foods that contain fiber are sources of prebiotics, but not all high fiber foods are good sources. Some of the best natural prebiotic food sources include garlic, onions, leeks, apples, flaxseeds, asparagus, unripe bananas, barley, oats, cocoa, wheat bran, chicory root, and seaweed.

Prebiotics can also be taken in supplement form that can be purchased online or in most health food stores, and are generally safe to consume. They are most commonly sold in capsule or powder form and can vary in price from about $15-30 or more for a one to two-month supply. The best prebiotic supplements are those that are made from all-natural ingredients based on food sources of prebiotics, yet other common ingredients that may be found in a prebiotic supplement include inulin and fructo-oligosacchardides, which are types of carbohydrate molecules.  Some probiotics supplements also include prebiotics, yet usually only in small amounts. Although supplementing can be a good option if the diet is lacking in prebiotic foods, consuming whole foods is always the preferred method as it will provide the body with the other nutrients found in those foods.

Next time you think about supplementing with probiotics, be sure your diet also includes adequate amounts of prebiotic foods to help to the probiotics work to their full potential.



About Author

Joanna Foley, RD, has been practicing since 2014 and has worked as both a clinical dietitian and, more recently, a renal dietitian. She is passionate about promoting behavior changes that lead to a healthier, higher quality of life using food as medicine. In her free time, Joanna enjoys experimenting with new recipes, traveling, and running half marathons. Connect with her on Instagram (@joannafoleyrd), Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest or email her at joanna.foleyrd@gmail.com to learn how you can work with her on a personal level.

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