Why You Need Prebiotics

We tend to think that bacteria in the digestive system are what we want to rid our bodies of. But there is a certain food ingredient that helps these bacteria grow and is actually beneficial to our digestive health.

They are called prebiotics, nondigestible food ingredients that help bacterial species grow in the colon, which is good for our overall health.[1] In nutrition terms, prebiotic foods are classified as fibers-the stuff that runs through your digestive system. In addition to helping the intestinal tract, prebiotics have been shown to increase the absorption of certain minerals (like calcium and magnesium)[2] and inhibit the growth of lesions, thus reducing the risk factors involved in colorectal diseases.[3]

The prevalence of prebiotic foods is a continual and ongoing research project. In 2008 the Institute of Food Research published a study that identified how almonds could have prebiotic properties.[4] We already know that almonds, being high in vitamin E and other minerals, and thought to reduce cholesterol, are extremely healthy. Now we can add that they may improve digestive health: the study shows that they may increase levels of beneficial gut bacteria.

While there's a good chance you're already eating almonds-after all, they go great with cereal, yogurt, and plain, as a snack-here are three sources of prebiotics.

Whole grains. This encompasses everyday foods like rice, pasta, and cereal. In a 2007 study, wherein two groups of people ate 48 grams of cereal for 3 weeks, one group devouring wheat bran, the other taking in whole grain, the authors discovered that those who ate the whole grain had higher levels of faecal, a beneficial bacteria.[5] This suggests that the whole grains were having a prebiotic effects.

Bananas. This is one of the healthiest fruits in existence. For one, it is high in potassium, which helps stave off muscle cramps during exercise and can lower blood pressure. Secondly, its high potassium content may help promote bone health.[6] And third, its fiber content is extremely high, which helps prevent heart disease, according to the Archives of Internal Medicine. Plus, they are in season all year.

Veggies. We all know the health benefits of vegetables. But they also calm your stomach. Asparagus, garlic, and leeks are included here. Two other interesting ones are Jerusalem artichokes, which contain inulin, a complex carbohydrate that feeds probiotics (microorganisms supported by prebiotics), and the onion, which is a natural prebiotic that won't encourage the growth of harmful pathogens.


[1] www.ilsina.org/file/ILSIFuncFoods.pdf

[2] Adolfsson, O. "Yogurt and Gut Function." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2004.

[3] www.ilsina.org/file/ILSIFuncFoods.pdf

[4] Mandalari et al. "Investigation of the Potential Prebiotic Properties of Almond (Amygdalus communis L.) Seeds." Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 2008.

[5] Costabile A et al. "Whole-Grain Wheat Breakfast Cereal has a Prebiotic Effect on the Human Gut Microbiota: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study." British Journal of Nutrition, e-publication, August 29, 2007.

[6] www.whfoods.com