Probiotics and prebiotics are receiving a lot of attention these days, and for good reason, as they are both critical to our gut health, and thus to our overall health and well-being.
The more we learn about health, the more we come to find that health truly begins in the gut—with what we put in our body each day, and how well we digest what we put in our body.
What is the Gut?
The gut refers to the entire gastrointestinal tract, which begins in the mouth and throat and ends with our rectum and anus. Often times, the gut refers more specifically to the stomach and intestines.
What Determines Our Gut Health?
Gut health is extremely important to our overall health—but what is it that actually determines our gut health? Primarily there are three factors to consider:
- The Gut Microbiome
A major factor to consider when it comes to gut health is obviously the food that we are eating. When we eat a variety of nutritious, natural, and easily digestible foods it provides us with the nutrients we need to stay healthy. Conversely, when we eat a bunch of junk foods, processed foods, foods that contain toxic chemicals and pesticides, or foods that are hard for the body to process, it will take a significant toll on our digestive system and can impair our gut health—and when our gut health is impaired our whole body suffers.
While the food that we eat is incredibly important to our health, it means nothing if we cannot digest the food efficiently. You can eat all of the healthy meals and superfoods you want, but if your digestion is poor you won’t be getting all of the nutrients that these foods have to offer.
Equally important to what you eat is how you eat. When we eat in a way that supports digestion, we are helping our bodies get the most out of each meal, and we are keeping our gut in good health. Chewing your food thoroughly, eating in a relaxed state, eating moderate meal sizes, avoiding overeating, properly combining foods, eating simple meals—all of these are ways to enhance digestion and ensure you are getting the most out of each meal.
The Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome, sometimes referred to as the gut microbiota, or gut flora, refers to the community of microorganisms living in our gut. We all have trillions of organisms that live in and on our body. These microorganisms are essential to our health and well-being and include bacteria, archaea and fungi. While they live throughout our bodies, the gut is the main location of these microorganisms.
Our gut health is largely determined by this community of microorganisms, and depends on what kind of organisms live in the gut, and how many of these organisms live there. Ideally, our gut contains a ratio of 80-90% “good” bacteria, and 10-20% “bad” bacteria.
This delicate balance can easily be thrown off as a result of unhealthy dietary or lifestyle practices, or through the overuse of antibiotic medications. Unfortunately, many people have the opposite of the ideal ratio, and have a ratio of 10-20% “good” bacteria and 80-90% “bad” bacteria—which explains why gut health issues like Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) are also on the rise.
What Are Probiotics?
To understand what prebiotics are, we need to have a good understanding of probiotics, as they both work together and support each other. Probiotics are live bacteria that live in your gut and can also be found in certain foods and supplements. Probiotics are what are referred to as “good” bacteria, and include bacteria strains such as:
These bacteria strains are helpful to digestion and gut health, help to keep the community of microorganisms in the gut in balance, and offer numerous health benefits, which is why they are often called “beneficial bacteria” or “good bacteria.” The so-called “bad” bacteria are bacteria strains like:
- Clostridium perfringens
- E. coli
These bacteria are known to be harmful to human health, especially when consumed in excess. Probiotics help to protect the gut from harmful bacteria strains and maintain balance in the gut microbiome. Supplementing with probiotics is a great way to restore and maintain balance in the gut, especially when used alongside a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Our Zuma Nutrition Multi-Strain Probiotic was designed to help restore optimal balance in the gut microbiome and features 30 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) and eight unique strains that promote the right ratio of gut bacteria.
What Are Prebiotics?
Prebiotics are indigestible carbs (mostly from fiber) that feed probiotics. In other words, they are foods that we cannot digest, but our gut bacteria can. When we eat these foods, they go to our lower digestive tract, where they act like food to help the healthy bacteria grow.
Both prebiotics and probiotics are important for our gut health. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria, prebiotics are food for these beneficial bacteria.
How Do Prebiotics Work?
Prebiotic foods are typically too tough and difficult to digest for humans. They do not break down in the stomach, but instead travel through to the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria and yeast, producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that the gut bacteria then consume.
These SCFAs have the miraculous tendency to feed only helpful bacteria, while inhibiting potentially harmful or unwanted microorganisms. This is due to the lower pH level that occurs in the colon as a result of the fermentation process, which is harmful to pathogens like bad bacteria, viruses, and fungi, and helps the beneficial bacteria like lactobacillus and bifidobacterium.
Prebiotics have a powerful effect on the gut microbiome and how it affects the body, with or without the addition of probiotic supplements or fermented foods. The many benefits that probiotics provide the body are supported and enhanced by the consumption of prebiotics.
Because prebiotics feed the beneficial bacteria and are harmful to bad bacteria, viruses, and fungi, they also play a helpful role in treating fungal yeast infections like Candida overgrowth. When used alongside a Candida Cleanse Tonic and an anti-candida diet, prebiotic foods can help tremendously in treating this common type of yeast infection.
Different Types of Prebiotics
There are many types of prebiotics. The majority of them are a subset of carbohydrate groups and are mostly a type of carbohydrates called oligosaccharide carbohydrates (OSCs).
This category consists of inulin and fructo-oligosaccharide or oligofructose. Early studies on fructans implicated that fructans stimulate lactic acid bacteria selectively. However, in more recent years, studies show that the chain length of the fructans carbohydrate is an important measure to determine which bacteria can ferment them. It is now known that other bacterial species besides lactic acid bacteria can also be promoted directly or indirectly by fructans.
Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), the product of lactose extension, can greatly stimulate Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, two very important strains of probiotic bacteria. Enterobacteria, Bacteroidetes, and Firmicutes are also stimulated by GOS, but to a lesser extent than Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria.
Starch and Glucose-Derived Oligosaccharides
There is a kind of starch that is resistant to the upper gut digestion known as resistant starch. Resistant starch can promote health by producing a high level of butyrate; so, it has been suggested to be classified as a prebiotic. An in vitro study demonstrated that resistant starch could be degraded by the bacteria strains Ruminococcus bromii, Bifidobacterium adolescentis, and also to a lesser extent by Eubacterium rectale and Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron. However, in the mixed bacterial and fecal incubations, resistant starch degradation appeared to only be possible in the presence of R. bromii.
Some oligosaccharides are originated from a polysaccharide known as pectin. This type of oligosaccharide is called pectic oligosaccharide (POS). POS has also been shown to feed some beneficial bacteria.
Although carbohydrates are more likely to meet the criteria of prebiotics definition, there are some compounds that are not classified as carbohydrates but are still considered to be classified as prebiotics, such as cocoa-derived flavanols. In vivo and in vitro experiments demonstrate that flavanols can stimulate lactic acid bacteria.
What Foods Contain Prebiotics?
Whole oats are a very common grain with many health benefits, including prebiotic benefits. They contain large amounts of beta-glucan fiber, as well as some resistant starch.
Apples are a common fruit that contain a high amount of pectin. Pectin accounts for approximately 50% of an apple’s total fiber content. The pectin in apples has prebiotic benefits and increases butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid that feeds the beneficial gut bacteria and decreases the population of harmful bacteria.
Garlic is a common culinary favorite that has many positive health benefits. It is also a great prebiotic food. About 11% of garlic’s fiber content comes from inulin and 6% from fructooligosaccharides (FOS).
Onions are another delicious culinary favorite that also have numerous health benefits. Similar to garlic, inulin accounts for 10% of the total fiber content of onions, while fructooligosaccharides (FOS) makes up around 6%.
Leeks are members of the same family as onions and garlic, and also offer similar health benefits. Leeks contain up to 16% inulin fiber and are a great prebiotic food.
Bananas are a very popular fruit that are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber. They also contain small amounts of inulin. Unripe (green) bananas are also high in resistant starch, which has prebiotic effects.
Dandelion greens are often used in salads and they are a great source of fiber. They contain 4 grams of fiber per 100-gram serving. A high portion of this fiber comes from the prebiotic inulin.
Asparagus is another great source of prebiotics. The inulin content of asparagus may be around 2-3 grams per 100-gram (3.5-oz) serving.
Chicory root is popular for its coffee-like flavor, and it is also a great source of prebiotics. Approximately 47% of chicory root fiber comes from the prebiotic fiber inulin.
The Jerusalem artichoke has many great health benefits and provides about 2 grams of dietary fiber per 100 grams, 76% of which comes from inulin. Jerusalem artichokes are a great source of prebiotics and have even been shown to increase the friendly bacteria in the colon better than chicory root.
Barley, a common cereal grain that is often used to make beer, contains 3–8 grams of beta-glucan per 100-gram serving. Beta-glucan is a prebiotic fiber that promotes the growth of friendly bacteria in the digestive tract.
Flaxseeds are an incredibly health food and a great source of prebiotics. The fiber content of flaxseeds is 20–40% soluble fiber from mucilage gums and 60–80% insoluble fiber from cellulose and lignin.
Wheat bran is the outer layer of the whole wheat grain, and it is an excellent source of prebiotics. It also contains a special type of fiber made of arabinoxylan oligosaccharides (AXOS). AXOS fiber represents about 64–69% of wheat bran’s fiber content. AXOS fiber from wheat bran has been shown to act as a prebiotic by boosting healthy Bifidobacteria in the gut.
Seaweed is a very potent prebiotic food. Approximately 50–85% of seaweed’s fiber content comes from water-soluble fiber. The prebiotic effects of seaweed have been studied in animals and have shown that seaweed may provide many health benefits, including enhancing the growth of friendly gut bacteria, preventing the growth of disease-causing bacteria, and boosting immune function.
Burdock root is a large root that is often used as a medicinal herb, though it is commonly used in culinary dishes in Japan where they call it “gobo.” Burdock root is widely known for its many health benefits, including its ability to promote liver health and cleanse the blood. It also has prebiotic benefits. Burdock root contains about 4 grams of fiber per 100-gram (3.5-oz) serving, and the majority of this is from inulin and FOS. Inulin and FOS have prebiotic properties that can inhibit growth of harmful bacteria in the intestines, improve immunity, and promote regular bowel movements.
Cacao beans are a bitter bean with many benefits to health. The breakdown of cacao beans in the colon produces nitric oxide, which has beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system. Cacao is also an excellent source of flavanols. Flavanol-containing cacao has powerful prebiotic benefits associated with the growth of healthy gut bacteria. It also has many benefits for the heart
Probiotics and prebiotics are popular health topics these days. More and more people are realizing that the health of our body and mind is largely determined by the health of our gut.
Gut health depends on many factors, but is primarily determined by nutrition, digestion, and the gut microbiome. What we eat, how we eat it, how well we digest it, and the balance of microorganisms in our gut are among the most important factors that govern our gut health.
The gut microbiome, sometimes referred to as the gut microbiota, or gut flora, refers to the community of microorganisms living in our gut. These microorganisms are essential to our health and well-being and include bacteria, archaea and fungi. Unfortunately, this community of microorganisms can easily be thrown out of balance as a result of unhealthy dietary or lifestyle practices, or through the overuse of antibiotic medications.
To restore balance, and to maintain health in the gut, it is important to focus on nutrition, digestion, and recolonizing the gut microbiome with healthy microorganisms. This can be done by supplementing with probiotics, eating probiotic-rich foods, and prebiotic-rich foods.
Probiotics are live bacteria that live in your gut and can also be found in certain foods and supplements. Prebiotics are indigestible carbs (mostly from fiber) that feed probiotics. When we eat prebiotics, they go to our lower digestive tract, where they act like food to help the healthy bacteria grow. Both prebiotics and probiotics are important for our gut health.
Prebiotics do not break down in the stomach, but instead travel through to the large intestine where they are fermented by bacteria and yeast, producing short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that the gut bacteria then consume.
There are many different types of prebiotics, the majority of which are a subset of carbohydrate groups and are mostly a type of carbohydrates called oligosaccharide carbohydrates (OSCs). The types of prebiotics include Fructans, Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), Starch and Glucose-Derived Oligosaccharides, Other Oligosaccharides, Non-Carbohydrate Oligosaccharides.
Many common foods include prebiotic fibers, and if you eat a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains, it is likely that you will get plenty of prebiotics in your diet. However, if you are focusing on improving gut health, you may want to supplement with a high-quality probiotic supplement and focus on including more of the prebiotic-rich foods listed above.