We have discussed Probiotics, which are live microorganisms, colonies of bacteria that live and work within our bodies. When probiotics are active within our systems, in a balanced harmony, they are beneficial to our health by keeping harmful pathogens in check. We obtain probiotic microorganisms, bacteria and yeast, as components of many fermented foods, or as food supplements. In addition to improving digestion and absorption of nutrients, those busy microorganisms produce natural vitamins and short-chain fatty acids, and they stimulate the immune system. All good things for our digestive systems and our bodies as a whole.
What do Prebiotics contribute to the digestive picture?
A Prebiotic is an edible carbohydrate; edible but not digestible. Prebiotics themselves are not digestible, yet they provide ‘food’ for, and stimulate the growth of, beneficial probiotic bacteria like bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the colon. Some of the common beneficial prebiotics are inulin, lactulose and pectin. Some foods which contain good amounts of prebiotics are bananas, honey, garlic, artichokes, leeks, onions and whole grains,
A prebiotic therefore is a food source for one or more strains of beneficial probiotic bacteria and therefore promotes their growth. Prebiotics remain undigested until they reach the large intestine.
Some common and beneficial prebiotics:
Pectin is well known as the gel that holds jams and jellies together. As well as being a soluble fiber, pectin has been shown in recent studies to readily promote beneficial bacteria, lower blood cholesterol levels, and speed up recovery from infection due to its ability to promote anti-inflammatory healing cells. Apples, pears, kiwis, plums, grapefruits, lemons & oranges are some common sources of pectin.
Human milk is rich in lactose, and contains non-digestible oligosaccharides, prebiotics which are favored by probiotic bacteria, providing babies with a healthy start to a balanced digestive system. Studies have shown that breast-fed babies suffer fewer colds and are less prone to allergic diseases. This is likely due to a richer gut microflora supported by the oligosaccharide content in mother’s milk. For non-breast fed babies, there is available a galacto-oligosaccharide enriched formula made from cow’s milk that intends to provide the same benefits..
Inulins are a group of prebiotic polysaccharides from the plant sugar fructose. Inulins are found in many root vegetables and fruits such as Jerusalem artichoke, chicory root, garlic, leek, onion, asparagus, burdock and banana, as well as whole wheat.
The inulin family of molecules cannot be digested in the upper part of the intestine, making them low calorie. Studies show that inulin promotes the growth of bifidobacterial, a beneficial probiotic.
Since probiotics are credited with many inter-related health benefits including: alleviation of chronic intestinal inflammatory diseases such as IBS, prevention and treatment of pathogen-induced diarrhea as well as uro-genital infections and atopic (allergic hypersensitivity) diseases, it would be appropriate to encourage a healthy thriving probiotic population in our gut. A diet including a variety of fruits, root vegetables and whole wheat should provide our bodies with the prebiotics required to encourage beneficial probiotic flora.