Prebiotics: Effects and Prebiotic Foods

Prebiotics: Effects and Prebiotic Foods

Did you know that your gut is home to a whole galaxy? Around 100 trillion microorganisms live there and form the so-called “microbiome.” The gut microbiota living in our intestines even exceed the total number of all our cells. Science has made significant progress in recent years, and this galaxy, the microbiome, aka intestinal flora, has come under the spotlight. The so-called prebiotics play a decisive role in the microbiome and, consequently, in our health. But what exactly are prebiotics, and how do they contribute to our well-being? This article provides a comprehensive overview for anyone who wants to understand prebiotics and optimize their health.

Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE
Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach

Published in Nutrition
5 min read · Apr 12, 2024

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What Are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are compounds from indigestible plant parts that serve as food for our good intestinal bacteria or are fermented by them and converted into short-chain fatty acids. Prebiotics, therefore, support gut health by promoting the diversity and growth of beneficial microbes, thus supporting a healthy gut microbiome and indirectly having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. [1] [2] [3]

Most prebiotics are also known as dietary fibers, more specifically soluble fibers. However, not all prebiotics are dietary fibers. Conversely, not all dietary fibers are prebiotic either, as only specific dietary fibers can promote the growth or activity of beneficial gut bacteria. [1] [2]

Unlike probiotics, which contain living bacteria, prebiotics are non-living. Prebiotics reach our large intestine undigested and promote the growth and activity of health-promoting microorganisms, thus a healthy intestinal flora.

These are the most common prebiotics:

  • Inulin: A common prebiotic fiber found in chicory, artichokes, garlic, onions, and many other foods.
  • Fructooligosaccharides (FOS): Oligofructose, a short-chain carbohydrate, is found in many vegetables, including onions, leeks, and asparagus.
  • Galactooligosaccharides (GOS): often derived from lactose and found in fermented dairy products and food supplements.
  • Resistant starch: This is found in uncooked potatoes, green bananas, and some cereals. It resists digestion in the small intestine and promotes the health of the large intestine and intestinal mucosa.
  • Beta-glucans: Soluble fiber found in oats, barley and some mushrooms, known to support heart health and beneficial gut bacteria.
  • Pectin: A soluble fiber found in many fruits and fruit juices that is particularly rich in apples, quinces, and citrus fruits and promotes gut health.

How Do Prebiotics Work in the Body?

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nourishing the beneficial gut bacteria or by being converted into short-chain fatty acids. [2]

The health of our intestinal flora, the microbiome, a community of microorganisms in our gut, is critical to our overall well-being. A healthy microbiome supports digestion, the immune system, and brain health and can even influence mood. [1]

Prebiotics – Benefits for Health

Improved Digestion and Gut Health

Prebiotics can help stabilize gut flora by promoting healthy gut bacteria and reducing digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, and inflammation. They can also help with chronic conditions such as ulcerative colitis. [1]

Supporting the Immune System

Around 70% of our immune system is located in the gut. A healthy microbiome, supported by prebiotics, can strengthen the immune system and improve the defense against pathogens. [2]

Weight Management and Appetite Control

Studies suggest that prebiotics, especially dietary fiber, can increase satiety and reduce appetite, which can help with weight management. [4]

Health Benefits Beyond the Gut

There is also evidence that prebiotics can reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases, improve bone health, and positively impact our mental health. [1]

Would you like to take advantage of the health benefits of prebiotics and integrate prebiotics into your daily diet? Our health coaches will help you find the right diet for you.

Prebiotic Foods

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Prebiotics are naturally found in plant-based foods, known as prebiotic foods.

CARE has selected some examples of prebiotics in food:

  • Chicory root: a common coffee substitute, rich in inulin.
  • Garlic: Contains fructooligosaccharides, which promote the growth of beneficial bacteria.
  • Onions: Also rich in fructooligosaccharides and inulin.
  • Asparagus: A good source of inulin.
  • Bananas: Unripe bananas are especially rich in resistant starch, which has prebiotic properties.
  • Salsify: Known for its high content of inulin, a valuable prebiotic fiber.
  • Jerusalem artichoke: Contains high amounts of inulin, a prebiotic that promotes the growth of healthy gut bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.

What Are the Consequences of a Prebiotic Deficiency?

A lack of prebiotics, especially prebiotic fiber, in the diet can have far-reaching effects on our well-being, from gut health to the immune system to mental illness [5].

  • Impaired Gut Health: Increased risk of digestive problems, irritable bowel syndrome, and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • Weakening of the Immune System: impaired ability to fight infections and inflammation.
  • Increased Risk of Chronic Diseases: Including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers.
  • Impaired Mental Health: Possible effects on depression and anxiety due to disturbances in the gut-brain axis.
  • Impaired Nutrient Absorption: Poorer absorption and synthesis of vitamins and minerals.
  • Impaired Bone Health: The risk of bone weakening and osteoporosis may increase.

What is the Difference between Probiotics and Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are indigestible and plant-based compounds and fibers that promote the growth of beneficial gut bacteria by serving as food for them. They are found in foods such as garlic, onions, and bananas and support a healthy gut microbiome, particularly by nourishing bifidobacteria and lactobacilli (lactic acid bacteria). [3]

Probiotics, living microorganisms, and bacterial strains have a complementary effect by directly influencing the gut flora and promoting intestinal health. Typical probiotic foods are yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut. [3]

So, while prebiotics support the beneficial bacteria through nutrition, probiotics contribute directly to balancing and strengthening the digestive system.

Does the term synbiotics ring a bell? Synbiotics are combinations of probiotics and prebiotics that work synergistically to promote gut health and support the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. They are usually found as dietary supplements or in foods such as fiber-enriched yogurt.

Are Prebiotic Supplements Useful?

Prebiotic supplements can be useful for people who have difficulty getting enough prebiotics or fiber from their diet, such as those with limited dietary diversity or certain digestive problems. Prebiotics promote gut health by nourishing and growing healthy gut bacteria, but they should not replace a balanced diet but rather supplement it.

Taking prebiotics through natural foods is preferable to taking prebiotic supplements in general.

Prebiotics Side Effects

Prebiotic supplementation can sometimes lead to gastrointestinal side effects, such as bloating, gas, or discomfort, as the body adjusts to increased fiber intake. Additionally, people with sensitivities or intolerances, like those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), may experience exacerbated symptoms when consuming prebiotics.

CARE empowers you to take your health into your own hands

At CARE, you will gain a deep insight into your general state of health through health check-ups and comprehensive blood analyses. Our comprehensive medical evaluation enables us to give you individual and personal advice on the results of your health check-up

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Blog Author Elena Health Coach at CARE

Elena Iagovitina

Health Coach at CARE Zurich

About the author

Elena is an enthusiastic Health Coach and blog writer at CARE, with a passion for holistic medicine and health. Previously, Elena worked for almost five years as a coach leading retreats, workshops, and seminars. These included mind-body therapy: breath work, meditation, and massage; as well as energy force therapy: reiki, and qi gong; and third expressive therapy: movement, writing and support groups. Elena shares exciting articles on the blog, on the topic of where the alternative and traditional medicine intersect with Western Medicine. Elena is also the driving force behind the CARE community. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling to remote locations and dancing. You might also see her on the lake of Zurich as a coast guard. Join her on her journey to learn more about health and discover the world of preventive medicine! Visit all articles written by Elena!