Prebiotics – What They Are and Why it Matters
Whether you know it or not, your body needs prebiotics to keep you healthy and alive. That’s not a typo and it’s not the same as probiotics which refers to bacteria.
Prebiotics are foods containing specific sugars that cannot be digested by humans. These sugars are intimately related to probiotics because the bacteria in your intestinal tract need prebiotics to live.
There are four basic categories of sugars, and you already know sugars are carbohydrates. Prebiotics are technically called, oligosaccharides, and this is the primary source for humans. There are many ways to get prebiotics into your system.
The natural way is to eat foods that contain them. A few general sources are whole grains that are essentially raw or unrefined. Additional prebiotic sources are soybeans, legumes, and fruits. Another common source is to buy prebiotics in supplement form and take as a vitamin.
You need to be aware of a somewhat common practice which is to make a direct reference to a food as being prebiotic. This is not accurate although it’s easy to understand why it’s done. Think in terms of any food being a source of prebiotic substances or materials, or not.
This point is really more than being a matter of distinction. It is the carbohydrate sugar contained in a food that is the prebiotic and not the food.
How Much is Enough?
How much prebiotics should you eat on a daily basis has not been determined. You’ll find general recommendations based on the health of an individual. For instance, someone who does not have digestive problems should have roughly 5-6 grams per day.
This is a general guideline, and a little more or less will not pose a problem. People with serious digestive problems will want to ingest twice that amount or even more.
One of the long-standing criticisms of the Western diet, especially in the US, is that it’s poor in many respects. This low quality diet consists of processed foods to include junk and non-junk but also foods low in nutritional value. If you have not been eating prebiotic foods in much quantity, then you should ease into it.
General Precautions on Prebiotic Consumption
If you become motivated and suddenly introduce large amounts of prebiotics, then you may experience unpleasant symptoms. This is just like eating a lot of fiber all of a sudden.
You’ll probably experience greater than normal gas with more bowel movements. Depending on your particular details, discomfort due to bloating from the gas could occur.
In recent years, there has been more research into prebiotics and intestinal bacteria. Researchers are curious to study the effects of certain prebiotic sources as they impact the growth of beneficial bacteria. But the important take-away is that you need a healthy, natural diet rich in fiber sources (for example, kiwi fruit).