Gut Health and Prebiotics

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There’s lots of talk about probiotics these days and their role in digestive health and disease. while probiotics and prebiotics sound similar, they actually are very different and have different roles in gut health.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that when taken in sufficient amounts can provide health benefits. They are naturally created by the process of fermentation in foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, miso soup, kimchi, and others. Probiotics are also available in supplement form and as an added ingredient in health products like yogurt and health drinks.

So what are prebiotics then and how do they differ from probiotics? What do they do for us, and how can I get more of them in my diet? Keep reading…

What are prebiotics?

Simply put, they are food for beneficial microbes that live on or in us. Prebiotic fibre goes through the small intestine undigested and is fermented when it reaches the large colon. The fermentation process feeds beneficial bacteria colonies (including probiotic bacteria) and helps to increase the number of desirable bacteria in our gut, positively impacting the gut environment, with an overall health benefit.

When we don’t fuel our gut bacteria with enough prebiotics, bacteria have to find fuel from other sources. It’s been shown that bacteria will eat the all-important mucous layer in your gut – which is your first line of defence against invasion of potential harmful compounds.

Dr. Frank W. Jackson, gastroenterologist – explains the difference between a probiotic and prebiotic with a helpful metaphor of a garden. “You can add seeds—the probiotic bacteria—while the prebiotic fiber is the water and fertilizer that helps the seeds to grow and flourish.” 

So if you put that into the context of your body.. while you are getting enough probiotics in your diet – do not forget about the prebiotics that feed the microbes that keep you healthy and happy every day.

Which foods help me to boost prebiotics in my diet?

Fibre happens to be an excellent source of prebiotics. These little helpers can be found in vegetables, grain products, nuts and seeds, prebiotic supplements and the soluble fibre called inulin. As the name suggests, soluble fibres dissolve in water. Inulin is found in many plants and vegetables, such as asparagus, garlic, leeks, onions, tomatoes, and artichokes. Refer to our handy chart on dietary products you should be including in your diet below:

Other sources include fibre supplements. As always, It’s important that you talk to your doctor before taking a supplement and make sure that you’re taking the fibre that’s right for you!

How much should you be getting? 

While there isn’t a recommended daily amount of prebiotics to consume, Health Canada recommends for women 25 grams of fibre per day and for men 28 grams of fibre per day. According to a recent study Belanger et al. * the actual intakes of dietary fibre for Canadian men is 19.1 g/day and for women is 15.6 g/day – so most Canadians are only getting about half of the recommended fibre intake.

We know it can be tough. Next time you are at the grocery store, spend time exploring the produce section, it’s the largest section in the store. Fill your cart with lots of colourful fruits, vegetables and try to buy in season. The more colour you have, the more variety of vitamins, minerals and fibre you will be eating.  That way you can reach your daily dose of 25 to 38 grams, without even having to think about it!