What Are Prebiotics and Should I Consume More?

Posted on June 30, 2008 | by

“Prebiotics” are a food ingredient that humans are not capable of digesting (soluble fiber), yet they keep the existing strains of “friendly bacteria” in the colon healthy. Inulin is a type of plant fiber that is not digestible in the human intestine and is considered a prebiotic.

Inulin is isolated from vegetables or fruits. Inulin is commonly added to low-fat foods to help promote a “fat-like” mouthfeel, providing a better taste and texture. It is fermented in the colon by friendly bacteria that produce short-chain fatty acids, which have notable health effects.

Additional food sources rich in prebiotics are asparagus, oatmeal, barley and many types of beans.

Thus, prebiotics nourish the “good guys” and promote their growth and survival. Keeping the “good” bacteria healthy and well fed has beneficial effects, namely, encouraging the existing healthy bacteria to multiply so that they can overpower the “bad” disease-promoting, harmful bacteria strains.

Why, then, is it good for your health to increase the number of these bacteria (by ingesting them in food) and feed them with prebiotics to keep them happy? Because good bacteria:

  • Overpower bad disease-causing bacteria.
  • Help boost the body’s immune system.
  • Help the body absorb vitamins and minerals and increase the body’s internal production of B vitamins.
  • May help bone health by increasing the absorption of calcium and the ability of the bones to absorb calcium.

Note that prebiotics differ from “probiotics.” Probiotics are actual live “healthy” bacteria added to the diet, and they promote health; prebiotics feed the probiotic bacteria.

Common names of these healthy probiotic bacteria that are added to foods and reside in the colon are Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria (this strain is included in Dannon Activia® yogurt).

Should you try and get both pre- and probiotics into your diet? More and more scientific evidence is emerging suggesting that ingesting the good bacteria and their food has beneficial health effects. So, eat your yogurt and your fiber and enjoy better gastrointestinal health.

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