If you’re health conscious in the least, you’ve likely heard that a healthy gut is important if you want to naturally walk the path to healthier days.
Many trends and diets in natural health come and go but thanks to science, we know now about the critical importance of the human gut: it’s all about nurturing your good bacteria and having plenty of it to fill all the little niches in your system.
So, while your gut bacteria are hard at work keeping you healthy and thriving, the question you might be asking yourself (and one others have been pondering, too) is this:
What keeps your gut bacteria healthy and thriving?
The answer that’s creating waves in the natural health community—prebiotic fiber.
Benefits of Prebiotics for Overall Health
Prebiotics are carbohydrates that pass through your digestive tract undigested, and then make their way into your colon where your good bacteria (aka probiotics) use them for fuel.
Nearly all prebiotics are fibers found in plant-based foods, and most fruits and vegetables contain at least a small amount of the indigestible fibers that your gut bugs just love to eat.
And, in order to grow and multiply (and keep you healthy), your beneficial bacteria need to consume a steady diet of prebiotics...provided, of course, by you.
Indeed, because prebiotics enable probiotics to fulfill their human life-supporting duties, the benefits of a diet rich in prebiotics to your health are extensive. That’s why we expect to see prebiotic foods and recipes just about everywhere in the natural health space.
Consider these incredible benefits of consuming plenty of prebiotic fiber:
• Improved digestive health. By encouraging the growth of the good bacteria in your gut (which also crowds out the bad guys), prebiotics can help prevent common digestive issues that can arise from a lack of a healthy, probiotic bacteria, like regularity, bloating, gas, and yeast growth.1
• Balanced moods and lowered stress. We know that our gut and brain are connected and that probiotics can help to modulate our emotions by regulating and producing important neurotransmitters. Now, studies show that consistent prebiotic consumption can lower levels of cortisol—the stress hormone—and balance emotions.2 Who doesn’t want that?
• Enhanced bone health. By increasing your body’s ability to absorb important minerals like calcium, foods rich in prebiotic fiber can help improve bone density and health.3 Here’s how it works: prebiotics promote growth of friendly flora that produce short-chain fatty acids, which decrease the pH in the colon. Lower pH means improved mineral solubility and better absorption!
• Optimized weight loss. Prebiotics can both increase levels of hormones that tell you when you’re full and decrease levels of hormones that tell you when you’re hungry, leading to a reduction in body weight and body mass index. This makes it easier to maintain weight loss.4
• Boosted immune function. Studies show that prebiotics can help your gut flora regulate and support your immune function. With 80% of the immune system living in your gut and depending on a healthy balance of bacteria to support it, prebiotics nourish your probiotics so they can keep your immune system strong.5
• Reinforced gut barrier. Your gut barrier is a vital component of your immune system that—when intact—keeps invaders from entering your bloodstream. The good news is that your beneficial bacteria ferment prebiotics into short-chain fatty acids like butyrate that nourish your intestinal cells and close up gaps in the barrier, which keeps you healthy!6
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the benefits of prebiotics.
To paint an even clearer picture of why prebiotics are the next big thing in natural wellness, consider this: prebiotics are so important to your gut and overall health, that they are abundantly present in breast milk, as human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) that nourish baby’s crucial first microbes.
So, if prebiotics are a crucial element of nature’s brilliant design to support the growth and development of a baby’s microbiome, surely we are meant to continue consuming them to support our own microbiome through all of our years!
Types of Prebiotics: Spotlight on Resistant Starch
Many prebiotics are indigestible fibers and sugars—such as inulin, oligofructose, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS)—that are naturally-occurring in a variety of fruits and vegetables.
But, another type of prebiotic is making its way into the gut health line-up for its amazing benefits—resistant starch.
True, you may have spent the last several years staying far away from starchy foods full of empty calories, but researchers are discovering that certain components of these former diet-busters are actually prebiotics which feed your good bacteria.
You see, some starchy foods—like potatoes, green bananas, and legumes—have components that are resistant to digestion (hence the name, resistant starch). This part of the starch gets fermented by your gut bacteria, often into butyrate and other short-chain fatty acids that nourish your intestinal lining and lower the pH of your large intestine to ward off inhospitable microbes.
So, what are the effects of resistant starch? In addition to all the well-known prebiotic benefits mentioned above, resistant starch seems to have a couple of its own tricks up its sleeve, such as:
1. Balancing blood sugar. Research shows that resistant starch increases insulin sensitivity, which means you need less insulin to keep your blood sugar levels in optimal range.7
2. Increasing fat burning. In one study, replacing just 5.4% of carbohydrate intake with resistant starch led to a 20-30% increase in fat burning after meals.8
It’s clear that prebiotics are like fertilizer for your microbial garden, and are imperative for a thriving microbiome.
Prebiotic Powder for a Healthy, Happy Gut
Fortunately, prebiotics are readily available in a variety of foods, like bananas, asparagus, leeks, garlic, onions, and Jerusalem artichokes. Unfortunately, it’s very difficult to consume enough of these foods to make a big difference in the health of your microbiome.
Why is this? First and foremost, archaeological research explains that our ancestral diet tens of thousands of years ago contained more than 100 grams of fiber every day—that’s a lot of fuel for mighty microbes!9 For example, Aborigines in Australia ate 300 different fruit species, 150 varieties of tubers and roots, and a countless number of vegetables, nuts, and seeds, ultimately consuming around 130 grams of fiber per day.
These cultures had healthier and more diverse microbiomes as a result of their diet, but the problem is that we just don’t have access to the variety of plants our foraging ancestors gathered. And when you consider that, in the United States, the average adult only eats about 15 grams of fiber/day, you can see that we are far behind ideal numbers when it comes to fiber and prebiotic consumption...and our microbiomes are suffering.
Secondly, so many things in our modern lifestyle deplete our beneficial bacteria and if we don’t have enough of the good guys (about 85% in a balanced microbiome) to stay in charge, the bad guys can take over—and our low prebiotic fiber intake just can’t make a dent in a microbiome overrun with undesirable bacteria.
Here’s how you can incorporate prebiotics, probiotics, and a healthy gut into your personal wellness plan:
2. Choose a whole food diet rich in plant-based and prebiotic-rich foods, such as apples, bananas, whole oats, asparagus, and tomatoes (or countless others).
3. Add a daily scoop of our 100% organic and food-based prebiotic powder to transform any meal into a variable feast for both you and your good gut bacteria.
With Jerusalem artichoke (inulin), green banana (resistant starch), and acacia fiber (soluble fiber), our organic, food-based prebiotic formula gives you seven grams of fiber per tablespoon of powder that you can easily mix into smoothies, drinks, and soft foods for a prebiotic punch that will have your microbes jumping for joy.
Research shows us that optimal gut health is about much more than just eating well. To truly enjoy vibrant and lasting wellness and vitality, we must nurture our gut bacteria with a variety of prebiotics that give them the fuel they need to support our health from the inside out. It’s truly a trend that’s here to stay.
1. Brownawell, A. M., Caers, W., Gibson, G. R., Kendall, C. W., Lewis, K. D., Ringel, Y., & Slavin, J. L. (2012). Prebiotics and the Health Benefits of Fiber: Current Regulatory Status, Future Research, and Goals. Journal of Nutrition,142(5), 962-974. doi:10.3945/jn.112.158147
2. Schmidt, K., Cowen, P. J., Harmer, C. J., Tzortzis, G., Errington, S., & Burnet, P. W. (2014). Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology,232(10), 1793-1801. doi:10.1007/s00213-014-3810-0
3. Whisner, C. M., Martin, B. R., Schoterman, M. H., Nakatsu, C. H., Mccabe, L. D., Mccabe, G. P., . . . Weaver, C. M. (2013). Galacto-oligosaccharides increase calcium absorption and gut bifidobacteria in young girls: a double-blind cross-over trial. British Journal of Nutrition,110(07), 1292-1303. doi:10.1017/s000711451300055x
4. Parnell, J. A., & Reimer, R. A. (2009). Weight loss during oligofructose supplementation is associated with decreased ghrelin and increased peptide YY in overweight and obese adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,89(6), 1751-1759. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.27465
5. Hoffen, E. V., Ruiter, B., Faber, J., M'rabet, L., Knol, E., Stahl, B., . . . Garssen, J. (2009). A specific mixture of short-chain galacto-oligosaccharides and long-chain fructo-oligosaccharides induces a beneficial immunoglobulin profile in infants at high risk for allergy. Allergy,64(3), 484-487. doi:10.1111/j.1398-9995.2008.01765.x
6. 4. Michel, C., Kravtchenko, T., David, A., Gueneau, S., Kozlowski, F., & Cherbut, C. (1998). In Vitroprebiotic effects of Acacia gums onto the human intestinal microbiota depends on both botanical origin and environmental pH. Anaerobe,4(6), 257-266. doi:10.1006/anae.1998.0178
7. Robertson, M., Bickerton, A., Dennis, A., Vidal, H., and Frayn, K. (2005). Insulin-sensitizing effects of dietary resistant starch and effects on skeletal muscle and adipose tissue metabolism. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,82(3), 559-567.
8. Higgins, J., Higbee, D., Donahoo, W., Brown, I., Bell, M., & Bessesen, D. (2004). Resistant Starch Consumption Promotes Lipid Oxidation. Nutrition & Metabolism,1(8).
9. Leach, J. D. (2006). Evolutionary perspective on dietary intake of fibre and colorectal cancer. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition,61(1), 140-142. doi:10.1038/sj.ejcn.1602486
Emily Courtney is a Writer and Editor at Hyperbiotics and mom to two fun and active boys. Emily is passionate about natural wellness and helping others learn about the power of probiotics for vibrant health! For more ideas on how you can benefit from the power of probiotics and live healthier days, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.
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