I think we can all agree that amongst this gut health movement, the buzzword of the moment is definitely “probiotics” or anything linked to the good bacteria living inside of us. And while I could talk for hours on end about them, I feel like we have missed one crucial element. Another word that is just as important though, is PREbiotics. I don’t think we hear enough about them, but they’re absolutely vital to a healthy gut and they deserve some of the limelight too! So for today, that’s what I’ll be focusing on!
What’s the difference between Probiotics and Prebiotics?
Probiotics are the LIVE bacteria that live inside our gut, and prebiotics are the food that these bacteria feed off. They are types of fibres and natural sugars found in our food that pass through our stomach undigested, and reach the small intestine where they are fermented and eaten by the good bacteria. Without adequate consumption of prebiotics, the good guys don’t have enough to feed off and that’s when an imbalance can happen in your gut flora.
Where are they found?
Inulin is one of the more common non digestible fibres that act as a prebiotic, and it’s found in foods in the allium family like onion, garlic and leek.
Other great sources of prebiotic rich foods are:
- Root vegetables like Jerusalem artichokes, sweet potato, pumpkin, jicama, parsnips and carrots
- Green peas
- Sprouted seeds and grains
- Bananas (especially unripe!)
- Cabbage (which is why it’s such a great base for ferments like sauerkraut)
- Oat bran
- Apples (with the skin on!)
While this isn’t a prebiotic or a probiotic, it certainly deserves a special mention because it also plays an important role in gut health. Resistant starch, as the name suggests, is a starch found in foods that resists digestion in both the stomach and small intestine, and reaches the large intestine virtually unscathed and this is where the magic happens.
Some of the bacteria in the large intestine feeds off this starch and then releases a fatty acid called Butyrate. This fatty acid is, to put it simply, AMAZING. It works to help strengthen the gut lining by controlling both the death and growth of cells in the lining. And it works as a powerful anti-inflammatory.
There have been an interesting review (I’ll pop the link at the end of this post if you’d like to check it out) that has been done on the anti-inflammatory effects of Butyrate on overall immunity, and the results are very interesting. Inflammation is an immune response after all, and in inflammatory conditions that affect the bowel (like Crohn’s, IBD or Ulcerative Colitis), increasing levels of anti-inflammatory fatty acids like Butyrate could potentially be very beneficial.
Where to find Resistant Starch?
You can find this mostly in grains, seeds, legumes and potatoes. I was reading Dr Michael Mosley’s book The Clever Guts Diet where he talks about how a study showed how cooked and then cooled rice and potatoes have higher amounts of resistant starch than just cooked. And even more strange is when they’re cooked, cooled and then re-heated again it has been shown to increase it even more due to the change in structure!
So, while it is of course important to have probiotic rich foods in our diet, it’s also important we don’t forget about “the little guys” like prebiotics and resistant starch. They’re not as trendy, but so crucial in creating a health gut.
Next week I’ll delving more in the world of the microbiome, and exploring some of the bacteria that like to dwell down there, so make sure you tune in for that!
Link to the review on Butyrate: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20823773