When we think of a living a truly healthy lifestyle, several key components come to mind.
We think of constant physical activity, complete with a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits, veggies and lean proteins. However, prebiotics don’t typically make the short list of key elements to a healthy lifestyle.
You may have heard about probiotics, the so-called good bacteria found in foods like yogurt and fermented foods. They help keep the gut healthy and strengthen your immune system.
But are you familiar with prebiotics? The word sounds similar to probiotics, but they’re very different, though equally important for good function of your body.
From reducing irritable bowel syndrome to increasing the absorption of calcium, prebiotics have many benefits.
Here’s a look at how prebiotics can give you, your diet, and your healthy lifestyle a boost:
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A Closer Look at Prebiotics
The simplest way to explain a prebiotic is that it’s a food that reaches the colon without breaking down. The majority of prebiotics are from plant sources.
They ferment in the colon, and as healthy bacteria feed on them, the incidence of harmful bacteria simultaneously declines.
Two of the most common prebiotic fibers are inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides, which are sometimes used in prebiotic dietary supplements. Those can be a good way to make sure you’re getting enough prebiotics when your diet is not naturally high in them.
Here’s a great article by LiveStrong explaining some more little known benefits of prebiotics.
Foods High in Prebiotics
Foods high in insoluble fiber, or fiber that’s not broken down during digestion, provide a large dose of prebiotics. These food sources include but are not limited to:
Other foods contain trace amounts of prebiotics, such as bran, honey, soybeans and other fruits and vegetables. Wine actually includes a small amount of prebiotics as well as probiotics.
But eating a well-balanced diet high in fresh foods is really the best way to ensure that you’re getting enough prebiotics. Just remember, your mom was right: you canât go wrong with roughage.
Prebiotics have a wide range of well-documented health benefits, which may include:
Fiber helps to move food and food byproducts through your colon. The greater bulk also pushes fecal matter through the intestine faster, leading to greater regularity and the reduction of constipation.
Enhances Calcium Absorption
The gut does not usually absorb calcium. But the presence of prebiotics helps to enhance paracellular transport, and that increases the likelihood that calcium will be absorbed in the colon.
Cancer Fighting Properties
When bifidobacteria eat inulin in the gut, they produce three short-chain fatty acids that are believed to fight certain types of cancer. Also, when the gut flora produce butyric acid, they can kill human color adenoma cells, which are very close relatives of cancer cells.
Reduces Irritable Bowel Symptoms
Increasing prebiotics can decrease the incidence of diarrhea, gastroenteritis and colitis by helping to normalize bowel function.
Regulates Insulin Secretion
Prebiotics can be especially beneficial to people with diabetes, slowing the absorption of nutrients in the digestive track and thus preventing the spike in insulin secretion from the pancreas. This keeps blood sugar on a more even keel.
Improves Immune System Function
Better gut function has been linked to a stronger immune system. Since prebiotics act as a virtual broom, sweeping out the colon periodically, they help to strengthen the gut and increase immunity.
New research is being done every day on the advantages of prebiotics; other suspected, though still unproven, benefits include increased magnesium absorption, a reduced risk of colon carcinogenesis, and a decrease in triglycerides – the fat in the bloodstream that helps the body produce energy.
As you can tell, prebiotics do amazing things for your digestive system, which leads to an overall healthier life. Although we don’t typically think of prebiotics in a day-to-day sense, the benefits are worth considering.
Prebiotics are a great addition to your diet, no matter how healthy the diet you already eat. You can’t go wrong by incorporating them into your daily menu.