With gut health and nutrition rising in popularity and seemingly a feature in most health and wellness publications, everyone is talking about prebiotics. What exactly are prebiotics, why are they so important and what are the best types for a happy and healthy gut?
Prebiotics: what are they?
Our gut microbiome – the community of bacteria living in each person’s gut – need fuel to keep functioning. Prebiotics are specific fuel sources that feed and nourish the beneficial bacteria housed in your gut. Science on the gut microbiome and prebiotics is constantly evolving, but the general definition of prebiotics is a ‘substrate that is selectively utilised by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit’. This idea of prebiotics is relatively new, having only been introduced in 1995.
Essentially, prebiotics are resistant to human digestion which means they pass through the small intestine into the large intestine relatively untouched; in the large intestine, prebiotics can be broken down by beneficial gut bacteria using their own unique enzymes and converted into health-promoting substances such as short-chain fatty acids. Thus, prebiotics promote the growth of beneficial bacteria and the production of health-promoting substances by these bacteria,.
Prebiotics – which are best?
Prebiotics are surprisingly in many different food sources. There’s no need to go out and spend a fortune on pills and potions – unless your health care practitioner advises otherwise! To keep your gut healthy and happy, you want to encourage and nourish the growth of the health-promoting bacteria that are already living in your gut. By consuming adequate prebiotics, you are helping those bacteria to thrive.
You may be wondering, if the good bacteria in your gut were to ‘order in’, what would they choose from the menu? There are some science-backed options that have been shown in studies to fuel your beneficial bacteria. Here are the top three prebiotic types and where to find them to keep your gut happy, healthy and thriving:
- Resistant oligosaccharides1: you can find these in wheat, rye, onion and garlic. These are great fuel for the good guys in your gut! They are also easy to cook with!
- Resistant Starch*: these are commonly found in green bananas, oats and cooked and cooled rice, pasta and potatoes. Who would have known that by simply cooling your pasta, potatoes or rice you could give your good bacteria a little treat?
- Phytonutrients*: these are usually found in many ‘easy-to-find’ plant sources such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes.
Eating the rainbow
Prebiotics are excellent fuel sources for your gut microbiome and its beneficial bacteria. They are also affordable and accessible in most grocery stores. Take your gut health one step further by eating a rainbow of diverse foods containing prebiotics. This leads to good diversity in your microbiome which equals a happy and healthy gut in most cases.
Add some of these prebiotics into your diet. You can start by buying fruits and vegetables that are in season, choosing different types of bread or breakfast cereals made from rye or wholegrains, adding some crunch in your day by snacking on nuts or throwing in some legumes to your favourite meals.
Of course, you should always check with your health care practitioner before making big changes to your diet and what works for some people may not work for others. For example, foods such as onion and garlic provide excellent benefits for some people and potentially poor side effects for others. If you think you may have an intolerance to any foods, please seek professional guidance.
Check-in with your gut
It’s important to check in with your gut once in a while. This can be with a health care professional, noting any changes to your gut and digestion or taking a gut microbiome test to do some exploration. Tests such as Brisbane-based Microba’s Insight™ test can tell you which bacterial species are living in your gut, what is currently known about those species, how diverse your gut microbiome is, and about the potential for your gut bacteria to perform key functions linked with health such as produce short-chain fatty acids. This is a new, cutting-edge way to check out your own gut microbiome. For any serious concerns, speak with your health care practitioner.
If you’d love to learn more about what your gut is doing and how it can influence your health, you can take a look at your gut bacteria with a gut microbiome analysis such as Microba’s Insight™ kit.
The Carousel would like to thank Christine Stewart, Nutritionist, Microba Microbiome Coach, Registered Nurse, for her article.