Gut health is at the top of everyone's mind, and for good reason. Improved gut health is at the heart of better overall health, both physical and mental. (To get the skinny on why the secret to mental health is in your gut, check out our guide.)
With our guts on our brains, it's no surprise that prebiotics and probiotics have become a massive health trend. And seeing as they're so useful, we'll bet they won't go out of style any time soon. Here's how you can capitalize on the healing powers of prebiotics to catapult your way into better health.
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are non-digestive nutrients and ingredients that bypass digestion by us (the host) and make their way to our gut. There, they are able to fuel our gut bacteria and lead to a positive benefit to us.
It is important to realize that just because something can act as a fuel for the bacteria, does not necessarily make it a prebiotic – it must lead to a positive health benefit to us to attain prebiotic status. These benefits can include anything from improvements in digestion to improvements in nutrient absorption to reduction in inflammation.
One of common culprits of an unbalanced gut is linked to modern farming methods. GMOs in soil and glyphosate sprayed on the crops are thought by some scientists to negatively influence our gut bacteria. This, along with a number of other factors dampens the health of our guts and can have major impacts on other systems in our body, specifically our mood.
Prebiotics play a role in mood regulation via a number of pathways. We now know that depression and anxiety can be a result of inflammation in the body, and that poor gut health can lead to inflammation. When we consume prebiotics, they are fermented by the probiotics in our gut. The byproducts (known as short chain fatty acids) are able to reduce inflammatory signals to our brain, thereby playing a preventative role in mood management.
The relationship between our gut and our brain goes both ways. Stress leads to dysbiosis (negative imbalance of bacteria), whereas when we have good gut health it can play a supportive role in mental health.
In our modern world, prebiotics are more important than ever to help restore better balance in the gut.
How to Add Prebiotics to Your Diet
Prebiotics can be found in a number of forms, including prebiotic soluble fibers, resistant starches, and polyphenols.
Examples of prebiotic soluble fiber-rich foods include Jerusalem artichoke, chicory root, lupini beans, onions, asparagus, and garlic. To a lesser degree, prebiotics can also be found in some nuts, such as pistachios.
Foods rich in resistant starches include green banana flour, raw oats, tiger nuts, cashew nuts, and unmodified potato starch. They can also be found in cooked and then cooled grains or potatoes.
Polyphenolic prebiotics are more emerging, with examples like certain kiwi fruit and citrus peel powders being shown to have prebiotic benefits.
Here are a few more prebiotic-rich foods you can start eating today for a healthier gut.
Prebiotic Supplements: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Prebiotics should be consumed daily. Key scientific groups such as ISAPP (International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics) and the GPA (Global Prebiotic Association) recommend consuming a prebiotic supplement to assist reaching your daily requirements. This is not surprising considering the types of foods that are particularly dense in prebiotics are not regularly consumed on a daily basis or in the levels required to reap the benefit based on eating patterns in todays world.
When looking for a prebiotic supplement, look for one that offers a significant dose of a specific prebiotic. Often, a supplement will advertise containing, for example, the prebiotic inulin, only to actually boast a mere 500mg to 2g: nowhere near enough to have a prebiotic benefit.
In addition, look for a supplement that provides a blend of prebiotics. This will ensure you are fueling a range of probiotics, ultimately enhancing the opportunity to develop diverse gut bacteria.
Those who suffer from IBS or have a sensitive stomach should look for a prebiotic that contains resistant starch (such as from green banana flour or unmodified potato starch) or a polyphenolic prebiotic, such as specific types of kiwi fruit powder. This will enhance the likelihood of being able to reap the prebiotic benefits with minimal negative digestive symptoms.
It is important to start consuming prebiotics slowly and to not get disheartened if you have any side effects such as gas, bloating or changes in bowel movements initially as your gut bacteria get used to the new fuel source. Building up a tolerance and seeking a prebiotic that works best for you is an important step in being able to ensure you reap the essential benefits.
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