are prebiotics healthy?

What are prebiotic foods and are they good for me?

Written by: Kelley R. Hill, MSN, RN-BC

In a Nutshell

  • Prebiotics are different than probiotics, though they both support digestive health, immunity, and overall health
  • Prebiotic foods are high in special types of fiber that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut
  • Prebiotics are found naturally in certain foods, though also sold as supplements

Much of our overall health is dependent upon our gut function and health. It does much more than digest food and absorb water and nutrients. Our lower intestines are home to 100 trillion microbes that also destroy disease-causing cells, regulate our immune system, and produce vitamins. So, when there is an imbalance in those microbes, our gut gets sick, and we get sick.

Prebiotics or probiotics have been the third most commonly used supplement other than vitamins and minerals since 2012. Before discussing prebiotics, it is important to contrast them with probiotics.

  • PREBIOTICS: Prebiotics are non-digestible plant fibers and other high-fiber edibles that help healthy bacteria grow in your gut, acting as food for the microbes in your intestines.
  • PROBIOTICS: Probiotics are live microorganisms; many are the same as or similar to those that naturally live in our body. They help maintain the balance of the healthy bacteria in our intestines and promote healthy gut function..

Prebiotics potentially protect against colon cancer and other diseases, increase absorption of minerals such as calcium, reduce potentially harmful bacteria, and aid in weight management due to increased fullness.

Prebiotics occur naturally in foods. If these are foods you do not eat, cannot eat, or cannot eat much of, prebiotics are also available in powder and capsule supplements. However, the efficacy of prebiotics in supplement form cannot be substantiated. Therefore, if you decide to add prebiotics, skip the pills and powders and eat the foods below:

  • Almonds
  • Apples
  • Apple cider vinegar (unpasteurized)
  • Bananas
  • Chia seeds
  • Chickpeas
  • Cocoa/Chocolate (dark)
  • Corn
  • Flaxseeds
  • Garlic
  • Grapefruit
  • Honey
  • Lentils
  • Oats
  • Onions
  • Pistachios
  • Plantains
  • Potatoes
  • Red kidney beans
  • Shallots
  • Shiitake mushrooms
  • Spinach
  • Walnuts
  • Watermelon
  • Wheat bran
  • Wild blueberries

Safety

Prebiotics are not for everyone. While they are generally safe for those without gut problems, persons with intestinal disorders should consult with a physician before increasing prebiotic foods in their diet or adding supplements. Rapid fermentation that occurs with prebiotic foods and supplements can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea or constipation in people who are sensitive.

Remember that supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

Prebiotics should not be considered a substitute for medically established treatments.

STRENGTH OF EVIDENCE: B

Conclusions are based on an a moderate amount of good-quality, patient-oriented evidence, conducted worldwide and supported by organizations that are authorities in prebiotics and intestinal health.

OUR RULING:

Prebiotic foods are good for aiding digestion, supporting immune health, and boosting overall health. These foods can be added into your diet for this purpose as well as the other health benefits.

OUR SOURCES:

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