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Prebiotics...Probiotics...which came first? | Jan. 19, 2011

Probiotics may be the latest buzz-word in the health and nutrition industry, and I have talked about them at length in previous articles, but here is a new nutrition word – Prebiotics.

Prebiotics and Probiotics are often used interchangeably, but you need to consume plenty of prebiotics in order to have enough probiotics in your intestines.

What exactly are prebiotics?

They are the non-digestible food ingredients that probiotic bacteria thrive on.  Together prebiotics and probiotics work to maintain a healthy digestive system.  Similarly to fiber, prebiotics are processed through the digestive system and fermented in the colon through bacterial activity.  The fermentation process helps in the growth of “healthy” gut bacteria.

You get prebiotics in food ingredients each day without even realizing it.  Some of the most common prebiotics are the natural fibers inulin and oligofructose, which are found in a number of fruits, vegetables and other plants.  Others include galacto-oligosaccharide and lactulose.

The good news about prebiotics is that they don’t raise blood glucose – which is good news for people with diabetes – nor do they increase insulin release.  Prebiotics are not broken down and absorbed in the upper intestine but function in the lower intestine (feeding probiotic bacteria) so the calories they provide are minimal.

Adding prebiotics to your diet is an individual choice.  Prebiotic fortification can be found in some packaged pasts; yogurt and bakery items; cereal and cereal bars.

You can also find them in the form of a supplement in powders, capsules, tablets and drops.  While they are generally considered safe supplements, if you do choose to add them to your meals on a regular basis, let your health care provider know, especially if you have diabetes.

The benefits to prebiotics are the same as those of probiotics – they promote beneficial bacteria growth in the intestines, help with regular bowel function, strengthen the immune system, help increase mineral absorption, decrease the symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome and may lower cholesterol.

Here is a list of some of the main sources of prebiotics: asparagus, garlic, leek, onion, artichoke, barley, berries, greens (such as dandelion greens, chard and kale), legumes, wheat and whole grains, and yogurt.

There are no guidelines on how many grams of prebiotics to consume.  Some studies recommend 3 to 8 grams a day to get the full benefits of prebiotics.

But caution is advised because they may produce intestinal gas.  As always, check with your doctor before taking any dietary or herbal supplements to make sure they’re safe for you wellness program.