What You Need To Know About Prebiotics

By Danielle Staub, MS, RD, CDN
Digestive Disease Dietitian

When it comes to gut health, there’s so much information regarding what you should or should not be eating or supplementing with. There is also a lot of hype surrounding both probiotics and prebiotics.  Let’s take a look at the facts.

Probiotics

Probiotics are live cultures, just like those naturally found in your gut. They are in the spotlight due to their potential to improve overall digestion and bowel function, in addition to a host of gastrointestinal disorders. Unfortunately, research is still needed to clarify the role of specific probiotics in different patient populations (stay tuned!).

What are Prebiotics and what do They Do?

On the other hand, Prebiotics are various foods in your diet that can stimulate the growth and balance of healthy bacteria in the colon. For example, the beneficial bacteria: bifidobacteria and lactobacilli. Prebiotic fibers are non-digestible and are fermented in the colon into short-chain fatty acids, which provide energy for the cells lining the wall of the gut. This is potentially protective against colon cancer and other diseases. Other potential health benefits of prebiotics include:

  • Increased absorption of minerals such as calcium
  • Reduction of potentially pathogenic bacteria
  • Weight loss/maintenance due to increased fullness

Prebiotics in Your Diet

Prebiotics occur naturally in foods such as leeks, asparagus, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes (sunchokes), banana, garlic, onions, whole wheat foods, oats, and soybeans.

How Prebiotics can impact GI symptoms

Prebiotics are certainly not appropriate for everyone and can actually worsen symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome since rapid fermentation can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation in patients who are sensitive. If you have Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) or FODMAPs intolerance, prebiotics are also not recommended.

Bottom Line

While there is still much to learn about the role of prebiotics and probiotics in our diets, it’s best to try to include a few servings of these beneficial foods each day – so consider roasting Jerusalem artichokes (they taste like potatoes) and tossing them into a salad or switching to 100% whole wheat bread or pasta, eating oatmeal for breakfast with banana, or grilling up some asparagus as a dinner side.

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