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Feeding Your Gut: Prebiotics 101

Have you ever heard of the phrase “you are what you eat?” While some may take this literally, there’s another way of interpreting this classic phrase. For example, did you know that what you eat has a direct impact on your colonic microflora? In fact, the best way to optimize your microflora is to eat foods containing prebiotics.  

Now, you might be thinking what the heck is colonic microflora? Or what are prebiotics and where do I get my hands on some? Don’t worryyou’ve come to the right place! 

The colonic microflora, as the name suggests, is located in the colon. It consists of a collection of more than a trillion cells, including beneficial bacteria, which break down and ferment carbohydrates that aren’t digested in the small intestine. The colonic microflora makes sure we get bang for our buck from the food we eat. Without their help we would be missing out on the energy and nutrients available from these carbohydrates because they’d remain undigested and ultimately excreted. What a waste! 

So how do prebiotics fit into the picture?  

Prebiotics are a form of dietary fibre and are the perfect fuel to keep your microflora thriving. Like other dietary fibre, prebiotics entering the colon are undigested. Prebiotics are powerhouses because unlike other foods that are fermented in the colon, prebiotics promote and enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria, which in turn benefits our overall health and wellness. Score!  

Beyond thiswhen prebiotics are fermented, they release essential nutrients and short-chain fatty acids, along with other by-products which can fend off colonic cancer cells. Prebiotic fermentation also breaks down phytate, a component of plants that remains undigested in the digestive tract. Without prebiotics’ superpowers, phytate would bind to calcium and make it unavailable for absorption. In addition, the short-chain fatty acids released also lower the pH of the colon’s lumen, which increases calcium absorption and inhibits the growth of harmful bacteria such as Clostridium difficile, which can cause illness. 

Prebiotics vs Probiotics 

Even though they sound very similar, prebiotics are not the same as probiotics. Prebiotics are carbohydrates that promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the colon which sets the stage for improved health overall. 

Probiotics on the other hand, are live microorganisms that, when consumed in adequate amounts, provide health benefits to our body. Most probiotics are conveniently available either in capsule form or in foods like yogurt, kefir or sauerkraut.  

The Good Stuff fueled by Prebiotics: Beneficial Bacteria 

So now we know how prebiotics help to create more beneficial bacteria in our body. Although there are multiple strains of bacteria in our microflora, two of the most well-known and well-studied strains are lactobacilli and bifidobacteria 

Lactobacilli can aid in the digestion of lactose, reduce constipation and infantile diarrhea, protect against infection, prevent traveller’s diarrhea and help relieve irritable bowel syndrome. That all sounds ideal to us!  

Bifidobacteria stimulates the immune system, produces B vitamins during the fermentation process, inhibits pathogen growth in the colon, reduces blood ammonia and cholesterol levels, and helps to restore the microflora after antibiotic therapy. Whew, they’re hard-working, arent they? 

Upping your Prebiotics Game 

So, you want to eat more prebiotics? It’s as simple as eating more plants. There are multiple plants and seeds (especially when consumed raw) that are naturally high in prebiotics including: 

  • asparagus 
  • banana 
  • chicory 
  • dandelion greens 
  • garlic 
  • Jerusalem artichoke 
  • leek 
  • onion 
  • seaweed 
  • the seeds of legumes, lentils, peas, beans, and chickpeas 
  • whole grains such as barley and oats 

Try this recipe 

Looking for ways to increase your prebiotic consumption? Try this simple dandelion greens salad recipe: 

Ingredients 

  • 2 cups dandelion greens, washed and chopped 
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa, cooled
  • 1 cup fresh curly parsley, washed and chopped 
  • 2 green onions, chopped 
  • ½ cup fresh dill, chopped 
  • ½ cup slivered almonds 
  • Mother Raw Lemon Tahini dressing 

Directions 

  1. In a large bowl, add all of the salad ingredients and drizzle with the Mother Raw Lemon Tahini dressing. Mix thoroughly and add more dressing as needed. 

Author: Tracy On 

Sources 

https://doi.org/10.1016/S0899-9007(97)00114-7 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15123070/ 

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copbio.2011.12.028 

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2013.08.009 

https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/microbiome/ 

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/19-best-prebiotic-foods#TOC_TITLE_HDR_21 

https://doi.org/10.1038/nrgastro.2014.66 

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1002533