Most of you probably have a pretty good understanding of the benefits of probiotics, like the amazing probiotics found in our beautiful Kultured Wellness coconut-based cultures, but there is another way in which we can alter the composition of our gut microbiome and improve our health, and that’s with prebiotics. These are two very similar sounding words! So what is the difference? Why does it matter? Prebiotics have a completely different, yet equally important role to play in our health. (1)
What are prebiotics?
They are an undigestible fibre found in foods, which encourage the growth of our beneficial bacteria. (1) In technical terms, they are an oligosaccharide (2) (a carbohydrate consisting of a small amount of simple sugars called monosaccharides) (3). When they reach the colon, they are used as a food by microorganisms to produce micronutrients, metabolites and energy to fuel our body. (4) In fact, 100g of prebiotics have been shown to contribute up to 30g of gut bacteria. That is a huge number of bacteria, and goes to show how powerful an impact prebiotic foods have on our gut.
Prebiotics specifically stimulate the growth of two very beneficial bacteria, bifidobacteria (5) and lactobacilli, in our gastrointestinal microbiota. Bifidobacteria is one of the first microbes to populate our gut and offers great benefits in human health. They keep pathogenic strains such as E.coli at bay, produce energy for our gut wall and our bodies and even promote the growth of other beneficial strains of bacteria. Lactobacilli bacteria are also incredible in the way that they convert sugars to lactic acid, a source of energy. They are a significant player in many parts of our body like the digestive, urinary and reproductive systems, protecting us from pathogenic invasions (6).
Prebiotics are like a fertiliser for our gut and we can use this fertiliser in the form of foods to nourish the microbiome. In doing so, we strengthen our immune system, increase our capacity to make vitamins, make more mood stabilising hormones and neurotransmitters and so much more.
What does this mean?
It means the more you feed up your microbiome with its preferred food – prebiotics – the healthier you are. Dietary flaxseed for example, is a prebiotic rich food that has substantial benefits to our gut by working to reduce our susceptibility to gut related disease. Another prebiotic called inulin is demonstrating its ability to significantly decrease the pH in our colon, decreasing the possibility of pre-cancerous lesions. (7) Inulin is a soluble fibre that can dissolve in water and give you that feeling of being full. It can be found naturally in foods such as artichokes, bananas, asparagus, onions, garlic and leeks. (8) Studies are also unveiling the power of inulin to promote feelings of happiness and wellbeing. (9)
We are so lucky to have access to so many gut loving prebiotic foods to help feed our beneficial gut bacteria. A few of the great ones are dandelion greens, Jerusalem artichokes, seaweed and raw cacao. Yes! chocolate is on the list. Additionally, cacao contains antioxidants called polyphenols which feed the good guys as well as contribute towards a healthy heart. (10)
Another awesome way to get those prebiotics into us is from resistant starches (RS). Like they imply, RS are starches that ‘resist’ digestion in the small intestine. They are fermented by the large intestinal microbiota and produce short chain fatty acids helping to boost our beneficial bacteria (11). They help to aid the promotion of butyrate producing bacteria, (12) acting as food for the cells lining our colon. (13) I’ll go into more details about SCFAs a bit later. RS have many benefits such as balancing blood sugar levels, the health of the bowel (by lowering inflammation and healing and sealing the gut), as well as lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease. It also bulks up faecal matter and reduces the pH in our colon. When our colonic pH is correct, our beneficial bugs flourish. When the pH is out of balance, pathogens can grow. (14) Pretty amazing isn’t it? We can create resistant starches when we cook and cool foods like sweet potato and rice, and it’s also present in green bananas. As bananas ripen they start transforming into simple sugars which aren’t great for a dysbiotic gut. Additionally, we can utilise the benefits of those beautiful bananas in the form of flour.
Green banana flour is also a resistant starch and a fermentable fibre, as well as being highly nutritious. As mentioned above, bananas are full of inulin which feeds and encourages the growth of probiotics. This flour has a similar composition to wheat flour but is naturally gluten free, sugar free and grain free, offering a welcomed alternative to our diets and with its earthy flavour. (15) There are many other flours that act as prebitoics and are delightfully gluten and grain free. Rich sources of prebiotic flours include tigernut flour (significantly higher fibre content than all other tubers) (17), psyllium flour, and slippery elm.
Now onto those short-chain fatty acids, or SCFAs for short. The nifty thing about prebiotics is that they lead to increased production of SCFAs when they are fermented by beneficial bacteria in the colon. SCFAs decrease inflammation and provide colonocytes (the cells than line the colon wall) with much needed energy. SCFAs are produced when dietary fiber is fermented in the colon. Acetate, propionate, and butyrate are the three most common SCFAs. So those prebiotic flours, vegetables and cooked and cooled rice are great for butyrate production which is so very important, given its role in keeping the gut healthy. (11) (12). Butyrate has been acknowledged for playing a protective role against colorectal cancer, which is awesome news for our health. (16)
So, there you have it…the power of prebiotics, resistant starches and short-chain fatty acids. We really can’t underestimate the power of food and its ability to nourish and heal our body and promote optimal health. Incorporate prebiotic foods into your diet every single day, including just 1 slice of Diversity Dough. They are the perfect symbiotic companion to your gorgeous fermented foods.
- Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia contributors. (2019). Prebiotic (nutrition)
- Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary.(2012). Oligosaccharide. (n.d.)
- Dictionary of Unfamiliar Words by Diagram Group. (2008). Monosaccharides. (n.d.)
Corzo N, Alonso JL, Azpiroz F, Calvo MA, Cirici M, Leis R, Lombó F, Mateos-Aparicio I, Plou FJ, Ruas-Madiedo P, Rúperez P, Redondo-Cuenca A, Sanz ML, Clemente A. (2015). Prebiotics: concept, properties and beneficial effects. Nutr Hosp. Feb 7;31 Suppl 1:99-118
O'CallaghanA and van SinderenD.(2016). Bifidobacteria and Their Role as Members of the Human Gut Microbiota. Front Microbiol. 7:925
- Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia contributors. (2019). Lactobacillus
- Meng C, Bai C, Brown TD, Hood LE, Tian Q. (2018). Human Gut Microbiota and Gastrointestinal Cancer. Genomics Proteomics Bioinformatics.16(1):33–49
- Healthline. Health Benefits of Inulin. (2015)
SmithAP, SutherlandD, HewlettP. (2015). An Investigation of the Acute Effects of Oligofructose-Enriched Inulin on Subjective Wellbeing, Mood and Cognitive Performance.Nutrients. 7 (11), 8887-8896;
- Healthline. The 19 Best Prebiotic Foods You Should Eat. (2016)
- Monash University.Prebiotic diet – FAQs. Dietary Fibre and natural prebiotics for gut health: FAQs. (2019)
- McLoughlin RF, Berthon BS, Jensen ME, Baines KJ, Wood LG. (2017). Short-chain fatty acids, prebiotics, synbiotics, and systemic inflammation: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Volume 106, Issue 3, September, Pages 930–945
https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/106/3/930/4822371 (actually 11)
- In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia contributors. Resistant starch. (2019)
- Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia contributors. Butyrate. (2019)
- Fuentes‐Zaragoza E, Sánchez‐Zapata E, Sendra E, Sayas E, Navarro C, Fernández‐López J, Pérez‐Alvarez JA. (2011). Resistant starch as prebiotic: A review. Starch/Stärke. 63: 406-415
- Happy Healthy You. (2019)
- Sarbini SR, Rastall RA. (2011). Prebiotics: Metabolism, Structure, and Function. Functional Food Reviews. 3. 93-106. 10.2310/6180.2011.00004