Recently I’ve been hearing or seeing the word “prebiotics” thrown around increasingly often. There are ads for prebiotics supplements in vegetarian magazines and reminders about prebiotics’ importance in women’s health articles. Geezus, I thought, another supplement that’s now allegedly essential? Yes and no. While they are essential for staying healthy (and slim), you can get all the prebiotics you need from a healthy diet.
“Prebiotics” are simply non-digestible substances that help the good bacteria (probiotics) in your digestive system flourish. In short: They help probiotics do their thing.
A “functional food component,” prebiotics “are conceptually intermediate between food and drugs,” according to Wikipedia. The word prebiotics itself was only coined in 1995. In technical terms, probiotics are oligosaccharides – linked sugar molecules found naturally in fruit, vegetables and dairy.
Natasha Turner, naturopathic doctor and author of The Hormone Diet (also: a weekly Blisstree columnist), explains that ”prebiotics alone can often help digestion, because they feed, nourish and increase probiotic bacteria.”
And that’s not all. Prebiotic foods also help with calcium absorption and controlling blood glucose.
“Some animal studies have indicated that they have a protective quality against early-stage colon cancer,” notes Turner. “And data already exists showing that some prebiotics may reduce appetite, increase satiety, and thereby decrease the amount of energy consumed.”
According to Food Insight, there are three things that must be demonstrated for a food ingredient to be classified as prebiotic:
- It’s not broken down in the stomach or absorbed in the GI tract
- It’s fermented by the gastrointestinal microflora
- Most importantly, it “selectively stimulates the growth and/or activity of intestinal bacteria associated with health and well-being”
Click through for a primer on some of the most prebiotic-rich foods.