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What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestible food fibres that benefit the body by stimulating the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestines. Therefore, to be effective, the prebiotic must not be digested in the upper gastrointestinal tract, so that is able to be released in the lower tract and used by healthy bacteria in the colon, mainly bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.  Unlike probiotic bacteria, prebiotic carbohydrates are not destroyed when they’re cooked.

Normally, prebiotics are carbohydrates such as oligosaccharides.  Oligosaccharides are sugar molecules made up of three to six chains and soluble fibre.  They coat mucous membranes and are found in plants, saliva, and breast milk. 

The Relationship between Prebiotics and Probiotics

Probiotic bacteria are not normally found in the intestine and when they are introduced, they are often quickly eliminated.  Prebiotic foods are therefore vital in order to encourage probiotic bacteria to survive and thrive.  The beneficial bacteria need to be constantly introduced into the body and fed the correct foods to ensure that they stick to the intestinal wall rather than passing straight through the digestive tract.

The benefits of prebiotics and probiotics working together include:

  • anticarcinogenic activity
  • antimicrobial activity
  • helping to lower triglyceride levels
  • stabilise blood glucose levels
  • improve the immune system
  • improve mineral absorption and balance
  • ridding the gut of harmful microorganisms
  • helping to prevent constipation and diarrhea

Sources of Prebiotics

Prebiotics can be found in the following foods:

  • soybeans
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • jicama
  • chicory root
  • raw oats
  • unrefined wheat
  • unrefined barley
  • bananas
  • berries
  • asparagus
  • garlic
  • flaxseed
  • tomatoes
  • greens
  • legumes

Oligosaccharides that have been classified as prebiotics and added to processed foods and supplements include fibre gums, fructooligosaccharides, inulins, isomalto-oligosaccharides, lactilol, lactosucrose, lactulose, oligofructose, pyrodextrins, soy oligosaccharides, transgalacto-oligosaccharides, and xylo-oligosaccharides.



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