Nutrition: PREbiotics

Tuesday 08 May 2018

PREbiotics. Yes, I want to write about PRE-biotics as opposed to PRObiotics. I am sure that many of you will have heard of PRObiotics through the advertising on the television for the Actimel types of drinks and some of you may already take probiotic supplements. You can also introduce probiotics into the diet by eating fermented foods like live bio yogurt or Kefir or sauerkraut.

What’s the difference between PREbiotics and PRObiotics

So what is the difference between them? Well, PRO-biotics introduce good bacteria into the gut and PRE-biotics acts as a fertilizer for the good bacteria that are already there by helping them to flourish and grow.

Why are they important?

So what’s the big deal here? It may help if I give you a few facts about our gut.

• We have over 1,000 different species of bacteria residing in our gut.

• The bacteria numbers tens of billions - in fact, more than all the other cells in our body put together. So a phenomenal amount.

• The bacterial population weighs about two kilos. Think of a bag of flour.

• The bacteria are made up of 80% beneficial bacteria and 20% non-beneficial bacteria. When we have this ratio we have what is known as symbiosis or harmony which is essential for good health.

• If for any reason this ratio changes then we have a condition known as dysbiosis or disharmony which may affect our health in a number of ways. These billions of little bacteria have a huge impact on all the systems in our body.

• They encourage good bowel health guarding against diarrhoea or constipation.

• They boost the immune system. 80% of our immune cells are in our gut so when this is in harmony this in turn supports our immune system.

• They encourage better vitamin production, particularly vitamin K and vitamin D.

• They encourage better mineral absorption particularly calcium and iron.

• They improve energy generally and help combat fatigue.

• They improve our bone density.

• Help to control our appetite.

• Help to protect us from a leaky gut.

• They help with anxiety and stress.

• Headaches, skin conditions and poor detoxification can all develop if the bacteria in our gut is out of kilter or in dysbiosis.

So why am I telling you this? You can see from what I have already written why it is important to have symbiosis or harmony in the gut. This can be thrown out of balance by so many factors including chemotherapy, radiotherapy (particularly if it is in the bowel area), taking antibiotics, some medication, and surgery as well as stress, a high sugar diet, alcohol and pollution.

So what are prebiotics?

I have already explained that prebiotics act as a fuel to feed the probiotics or beneficial bacteria already in the gut. They are the undigested plant fibres known mainly as inulin and FOS (fructooligosaccharides). They reach the large bowel after passing through the upper digestive tract intact. Where do they come from? Nature gave us quite a gift when it comes to prebiotic foods because there are many that have just the right ingredients to improve gut function without us having to do anything but eat them!!

Foods that are rich in prebiotics

• Asparagus is one of the richest sources of prebiotics and also packed with B vitamins. They are best eaten in season (like all fruits and vegetables). Try them grilled or stir fried as well as lightly steamed.

• Bananas are a quick and easy snack and also go well in a smoothie. They are also a very good source of potassium and B vitamins.

• Onions are the cheapest and most delicious way to flavour our food. They are also rich in anti-oxidants and red onions are a good source of quercetin which has effective anti-inflammatory properties.

• Leeks are the same family of vegetables as onions and have very similar qualities. They are good in soups, thinly sliced in a stir fry, or added to casseroles.

• Garlic, as well as being rich in prebiotics, also acts as an anti-bacterial agent helping to protect our internal ecology from unwanted bacterial invasion.

• Cabbage is so versatile and its natural prebiotic content makes it perfect for making sauerkraut and kimchi as the base. It also offers a good source of vitamin C and B vitamins.

• Artichokes are a really good source of prebiotics. They have a very low carbohydrate content which makes them lower in the glycaemic index and therefore helpful for good blood sugar control

• Apples are rich in the fibre Pectin which feeds the good bacteria in our gut and apples are also a good source of anti-oxidants. The green apples tend to be lower in sugar content.

Make any changes manageable

When considering changing your diet to include more of these foods always start slowly and build up the quantity rather than launching full on as the gut may object. Our bodies like changes that are made gradually. If you are having treatment, particularly radiotherapy that focuses on the bowel, then it is a good idea not to make changes until the treatment has finished and then do this when the time is right. It may not be for a while after treatment has finished. Probiotics and prebiotics go hand in hand to give us optimum gut health and overall well-being so consider reading the blog on Fermented foods to give you the full picture.

Blog originally written by Caroline - checked March 2021

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