What are Prebiotics & Why Are They Important?

What are Prebiotics?

“Prebiotics” and “probiotics” have become quite trendy recently, and they are (rightly!) touted as good for overall health and wellness. Though they sound similar and are both good for us, be aware, prebiotics and probiotics are not the same!

Enter prebiotics, not to be confused with their cousins, probiotics.

What are prebiotics really? Well, let’s start with what they’re NOT! They’re not living microorganisms like probiotics. Probiotics are live cultures found within certain fermented foods [1], whilst prebiotics are organic substances selectively utilized by host microorganisms bringing a health benefit [2].

Levelling up: fibres and prebiotics

Knowing that prebiotics are mostly a fibre, you may wonder if all fibres are prebiotics. The answer is no. Fibre is a macronutrient that’s abundant in beans, nuts, bran, oat grains and wholewheat. They can be soluble or insoluble, with some offering specific health benefits, for example, barley grain fibre, oat grain fibre, sugar beet fibre, and wheat bran fibre can contribute to an increase in faecal bulk when consumed in the recommended quantities.

One specific fibre which qualifies as a prebiotic is the inulin in chicory roots. Chicory inulin is known to contribute to normal bowel function by increasing stool frequency (with a daily intake of 12g).

Finding fibre and foods with prebiotic

Barley grain fibre, oat grain fibre, sugar beet fibre, rye fibre and wheat bran fibre are great sources of various fibres. Fruits do well in this group too! We usually associate fruits with vitamins and minerals and forget the fact that they’re a brilliant source of fibre as well– particularly berries, citrus fruits, apples, and pears when consumed in a certain quantity. Overall, eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and cereals each day will help you with your fibre needs.

Sourcing prebiotics, specifically, can be a little tricky as they are a bit hard to find in foods. Scoping out certain prebiotic-enriched cereals and yogurts in your supermarket may help your quest. But if you’re looking for a source of prebiotics, stock up on chicory roots that contain prebiotic in the form of ‘chicory inulin’.

There are other food which could be source of inulin (also a type of fibre), such as: Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, leeks, onions, wild yam, asparagus, wheat and barley. So eating wholegrains, as well as fruit and vegetables every day in recommended amounts will surely bump up your intake of fibre.

A balanced diet for daily wellness

Choosing to live your best life starts with the awareness of what you’re putting into your body. It’s not about having just plenty of prebiotics or only plenty of vitamins. Instead the key lies in striking a good balance between everything that your body needs and loves! Start with small everyday changes such as including more of fruits & vegetables in your daily balanced diet. They are buzzing with vitamins, minerals and fibres, AND you can have fun experimenting with different tastes too. There’s a bottomless treasure trove of different fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds waiting for you to explore!

[1] FAO/WHO: Probiotics are live micro-organisms which when administered in adequate
amounts confer a health benefit on the host.

[2] ISAPP (International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics): Prebiotic is a substrate that is selectively utilized by host micro-organisms conferring a health benefit.

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