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Prebiotics – As Important as Probiotics

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Prebiotics2

Prebiotics + Probiotics = Probiotic Powerhouse

In the last few years I have been researching, and ingesting, a lot of prebiotics and what I have discovered is that prebiotics are just as important as probiotics. What is a prebiotic and why is this so important? Prebiotics are certain indigestible fibers that nourish the good bacteria in the large bowel or colon. The body itself cannot digest these foods, but our bacteria can, and we receive the benefits.

Add prebiotics and probiotics with care

ChardandKale
One thing I want to note: adding a lot of prebiotics and probiotics should be done with care. They will grow and multiply and can cause stomach distress such as gas and bloating. Your body loves these prebiotic fibers and will ferment them like crazy, changing your gut flora for the better; but often you need time to adjust to the huge changes that are happening inside of you.

They’re powerful medicine that has virtually no calories

WholeGrains2
Do you remember when eating fiber became the new craze and they were putting fiber in everything? I never understood all this since the body couldn’t absorb any of the fiber. Yes, it was supposed to keep things moving along throughout the colon to speed elimination, but how was it helping the body’s immune system? What about fruits and vegetables? Everyone knows that we should eat more of them, but why are they so special?


honey

Prebiotics are fiber, but not all fiber is a prebiotic

Although all prebiotics are fiber, not all fiber is a prebiotic. The fiber must be fermented by the intestinal microflora and stimulate the growth and/or activity of intestinal bacteria to be considered a prebiotic. In certain plants, there are fibers which the body cannot digest. Fiber can be separated into insoluble and soluble types. Insoluble fiber is not fermented or broken down by bacteria. It does help make elimination easier, but what you really want is more soluble fiber as this is broken down and fermented by colon bacteria. These soluble fibers are digested by our bacteria, which then increases this mighty army of good bacteria inside of us. These fibers are essentially food for our bacteria and are beneficial in even more ways. They can lower cholesterol and blood pressure, decrease insulin resistance, help us lose weight, and they are also very effective in treating people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome as well as many other kinds of gut disorders. These fibers are powerful medicine with virtually no calories; but these fibers strengthen and feed the trillions of microflora inside of us.

BeansandLegumes
There are so many health benefits from dietary fiber. It has been linked to less cardiovascular disease, increased weight loss, and it stimulates metabolic activity. I just have to wonder if the real benefits lie in helping our good bacteria to thrive and grow.

Prebiotics act as a fertilizer

These prebiotics act as a fertilizer to promote the growth of the good bacteria in our gut. This is essential to the health and function of our immune system. You want a diverse amount of good bacteria in your gut, and eating cultured foods accomplishes this. With the addition of prebiotics, you have a super strong combination that boosts your immune system. Prebiotics also strengthen your ability to absorb calcium, magnesium, and other minerals usually lacking in our diets.

Prebiotic supplements

prebio plus usage
Eat more fruits and vegetables for the prebiotics, but there are also many prebiotic supplements that work. You can add prebiotic supplements to hot beverages and foods, or cook with other foods, and it will make the bacteria already residing within you thrive. Here are a few of my favorite: Prebio Plus, Body Ecology Eco Bloom, Sweet Leaf Stevia (powder form). These special powders are made with inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides, and acacia and feed your bacteria like crazy.

Fresh juices also contain prebiotics

green juice glassPrebiotics can be found in bananas, berries, kale, chards, onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes, jicama, chicory root, dandelion greens, some whole grains, honey, and now some say even milk. Prebiotics can also be put in food products and supplements with names such as inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides, and chicory root. Fresh juices also contain prebiotics. Most people think that you’re missing the fiber in juices since most of the bulk of the vegetable is gone; but fortunately, the soluble fiber remains in the juice making juices loaded with prebiotics.

Here are just a few of my favorite prebiotic foods and supplements.

Acacia, often called acacia gum, contains 86% prebiotic content. It is used as  a food stabilizer and has a substantial amount of fiber and is essential for strengthening the population of good bacteria in your gut. One place to find this prebiotic is in the supplement Prebio Plus. I often add it to my tea or stir it into salad dressing. It’s wonderful since it can be used hot or cold.
Asparagus contains 5% prebiotic content. it diminishes in prebiotics the more it is cooked, so eat it raw or lightly cooked.
Bananas contain 1% prebiotic content. Green bananas and plantains contain up to 3% prebiotic fiber, depending on how ripe they are. The greener they are, the more prebiotics they contain.
Berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, boysenberries) contain from 1 to 3% prebiotic content. Eating them raw is the best way to ensure you get lots of prebiotics.
Carrots, cabbages, and apples contain 1% to 2% prebiotic content. I love carrots and apples and use them daily in my juices and meals.  I make tons of kraut with apples and carrots.  This way,  I get probiotics and prebiotics in one jar.
Chicory Root/Inulin is 64.6% prebiotic content. Inulin is made from chicory root and is a powerful prebiotic. The chicory root is roasted to reduce some of its potency as it can cause stomach problems if not taken with a probiotic.  You can find  inulin in Prebio Plus and sweet leaf stevia (the powder packages only). You can find chicory root in many coffee alternative drinks.
Dandelion Greens contain 24.3% prebiotic content. These are delicious as a salad, and very enjoyable raw. I’ve also found this in a coffee substitute drink called Faux Joe.
Raw Garlic contains 17.5% prebiotic content. As it ferments, garlic gets super bubbly and delicious, giving you both prebiotics and probiotics. When you cook garlic, it diminishes the amount of prebiotics as most of these fibers turn to sugars.
Seeds are also prebiotic, with flax seeds containing the most at 13% prebiotic fibers. Flaxseeds have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity and modify the gut microbiota significantly in certain individuals with obesity.1
Fructo-oligosaccharides, or FOS, contain 35% prebiotic content. FOS is made from fruits and vegetables such as bananas, onions, chicory root, garlic, asparagus, jícama, and leeks. It’s  a subgroup of inulin. Grains  such as wheat and barley also contain FOS. The Jerusalem artichoke and its relative yacon, together with the Blue Agave plant, have been found to have the highest concentrations of FOS found in cultured plants. You can also find FOS in Prebio Plus.
Honey contains 3%-4 % prebiotic content. The interesting thing about honey is that it is also antibacterial as well as a prebiotic. This can confuse people: how does it kill bacteria and also help it grow? The antibacterial qualities  protect the honey from harmful micro-organisms when it’s in the hive. Honey contains unique oligosaccharides that have an important prebiotic activity that works to increase the ever important populations of bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the body.
Jerusalem Artichoke is rich in prebiotic fiber with a 31.5% prebiotic content. It can be eaten lightly cooked to obtain the benefits of the super prebiotic fiber.
Leeks and Jicama contain 12% prebiotic content. These are some of my favorite veggies. I use leeks and jicama in so many dishes and fermented foods. I love the taste – especially in soups. Check out my Butternut Squash and Leek Soup in my Cultured Food for Health book, and check out jicama in my Flu Prevention Cultured Veggies.
Legumes, Rice, Potatoes, and Sweet Potatoes contain 2% to 7% prebiotic content. Legumes and potatoes also contain resistant starch which is another type of prebiotic fiber. Resistant starch does just what it says, it resists being digested in the small intestine until it enters the large intestine where it is fermented by bacteria. It stimulates the growth of good bacteria in the large intestine and boosts the production of short-chain fatty acids like butyrate. Butyrate has powerful anti-inflammatory effects that go beyond the gut. You want more butyrate in your system as it is a powerful aid in preventing cancers, promoting weight loss, and boosting the immune system.
Raw Onions contain 8.6% prebiotic content. Cooked onions still contain 5%; but like garlic, much of the fiber turns to sugar. Raw is better!
Nuts contain 1% to 6% prebiotic content. Even roasted nuts can contain prebiotic fibers.
Whole Grains, Oats, Amaranth, Quinoa, Millet, and Buckwheat all contain 2% to 5% prebiotic content. It’s most important to eat sprouted or soaked grains or to consume bread made with sourdough starters.  These preparation methods help to unlock the nutrients by deactivating the phytic acid in grains that can wreak havoc on your gut and keep you from getting the vitamins and minerals. Oats have a lot of soluble fiber and so does amaranth, quinoa, millet, and buckwheat. These are especially helpful if you have problems with wheat.
Prebio Plus, Sweet Leaf Stevia, and Ecobloom all contain tons of prebiotics – up to 86% prebiotic fiber content. Prebio Plus has the most with three different prebiotics: inulin, acacia, and FOS. Sweet Leaf Stevia contains inulin as does Ecobloom. Inulin and FOS are about 41% fiber content while acacia is 86%. You can use these in all kinds of cultured foods. You can also add them to regular dishes by adding it to your coffee or tea or sprinkling it on salads and dressings. They’re all pretty powerful and a little goes a long way, so start out small when first using them. Combined with probiotic foods, you will feed the microbiome in your gut and allow it to grow and multiply. As with all prebiotics, you want to allow your body to adjust, and you want to avoid any undue gas as these fibers ferment and grow and change your inner eco-system.

There are many more prebiotics – these are just some of the more important ones. Concentrate on feeding your microbes lots of healthy probiotic foods and prebiotic fibers in fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, and grains and watch as your microbes take care of you from the inside out.

 

References:

  1. Brahe LK, et al. Dietary modulation of the gut microbiota – a randomized controlled trial in obese postmenopausal women. Br J Nutr. 2015 Jul 2:1-12. [Epub ahead of print]
14 Responses to "Prebiotics – As Important as Probiotics"
  1. I would like to know which Kefir you use. I am familiar with Lifeway Kefir, but the sugar content (20%) is so high. I make my own yogurt at home – love it! My family loves smoothies. I was recently introduced to some wonderful products by Blendtec blenders and recently started adding their pre/pro-biotics (as well as their other products) to our smoothies, as we are trying a more plant-based diet: http://www.blendfresh.com/blendfresh-pre-and-probiotic/

  2. I’ve recently discovered Tiger Nuts. They are a great, tastey prebiotic with both soluble and insoluble fiber and many other health benefits as well. They are an ancient tuber (not a real nut!) Have you discovered them? Here’s a good introductory article http://realfoodforager.com/tigernuts-a-newold-food/ I haven’t tried horchata yet, but I’m looking forward to making some when I get a chance.

  3. Hi Donna, thanks so much for sharing your knowledge with us! My question is does the Sweet Leaf liquid flavored stevia contain prebiotics as well? I wasn’t sure if the processing might counteract the prebiotic benefits. Thanks!

    • No you cannot use stevia for kombucha. The microbes must have the sugar to turn it into probiotics for you. Without the sugar the culture would die.

  4. I noticed you mention faux jo has prebiotic properties, however this is made from the dandelion root, not the greens, is it still a prebiotic?

  5. I love your Cultured food life & look forward to your weekly posts thank you
    I might add I have COPD and I feel the probiotics have helped me to stay off antibiotics by taking a tbs of pickled vege juice 3 times a day (when not well) which you recommended for your daughter when she had chicken pox ! when I began to feel unwell, with the change of weather, I thought I’ll give it a go, it worked I have a cough but no sign of infection, thank you Donna, PS I am now making my own sauerkraut & pickled veg , also Kefir….Shona

  6. A whole food plant based diet in conjunction with ferments with solve all the problems. SIBO is a sign of a sick microbiome from eating the wrong foods and poor immune function. Eat plants and avoid animal products and anything processed including oils, which are just the waste left after the nutrients and fiber is processed out. Lots of complex carbs too, try it and see!

  7. Hi. Just wanted to ask if any one else has the same problem as me. I have been using kefir everyday for about 3 years now. Problem is when I add kombucha to my diet I quickly seem to get mouth cankers. Any suggestions as to why. Thank you.

  8. Great article, Donna. Thank you. Am drinking a smoothie made with my very first batch of kefir and it contains several of the prebiotics discussed here. Instinctively off to a good start this morning!

  9. Be careful, if you have sibo, these prebiotics will make your condition worse. You will need to heal your gut prior to introducing these high FODMAP foods!

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