Prebiotics and probiotics are both important for a healthy gut, which in turn is important for a healthy immune system. Roughly 70% of your active immune cells are found in your gut, and they can’t do their job properly if your gut’s not happy. If overworked by large volumes of unfriendly bacteria and yeast, the immune system can become extremely sensitive, giving rise to allergies, or simply worn down and tired, meaning it is not as effective at killing off the microorganisms that actually pose a threat, making you more vulnerable to infections, colds and flus. Put simply: a healthy gut is key to a healthy immune system and prebiotics, just like the probiotics they feed, are key to a healthy gut.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are a form of dietary fibre that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut. They are components of food (for the most part fibre), that are unable to be digested as food in their own right. We lack the enzymes necessary to break them down, which means they are able to come into contact with bacteria in the gut and work their magic.
Essentially this magic consists of ‘feeding’ or stimulating the growth and activity of specific bacteria that are good for health. Much of this beneficial interaction with gut bacteria is due to fermentation.
Prebiotics are most likely to increase the number of bifidobacteria (a friendly type of bacteria often included in probiotic supplements .
Food sources of prebiotics
Certain foods are naturally rich in prebiotics. Right at the top of this list of prebiotic foods is chicory root. Chicory root comes from a flowering plant in the dandelion family. It’s popular for its coffee-like flavour and has historically been used in cooking and medicine. Approximately 68% of chicory root fibre comes from the prebiotic fibre inulin, which has been found to improve digestion and bowel function, and help relieve constipation . Chicory may also help in the management of diabetes by raising levels of adiponectin, a protein that helps control blood glucose levels .
Jerusalem artichoke, also known as earth apple, is another good food source of inulin, and onions are rich in both inulin and fructooligosaccharides or FOS for short. FOS helps to strengthen gut flora and metabolise fats, with studies showing that it can also help to boost your immune system by increasing nitric oxide production in cells .
Unsurprisingly, garlic also makes the prebiotic foods list. It acts as a prebiotic by promoting the growth of beneficial Bifidobacteria in the gut, and also helps prevent the growth of potentially harmful bacteria .
Asparagus is also worth a mention. Another great source of prebiotics, this plant powerhouse naturally contains inulin to help improve digestive health and help maintain optimum levels of glucose and insulin.
Prebiotic supplements are also a great way to support gut health quickly and directly.
Nature’s Aid Pure Inulin provides 100% inulin from chicory. Chicory root inulin has a relatively longer chain than other types or sources of inulin, which provides several advantages over short-chain inulin. Adding inulin to your diet can help to support digestive health and also reduce fat absorption by up to 50%. Mix 1-2 teaspoons (2-5g) daily into water, shakes, smoothies, juice or yoghurt.
For a great prebiotic start to the day, try A.Vogel’s Molkosan. It provides a combination of prebiotics and probiotics, is naturally anti-fungal and rich in L+ lactic acid. Simply add one teaspoon to a glass of water.
Formerly known as Eliminex, Lamberts’ FOS is a prebiotic powder that encourages the growth of friendly bacteria in the bowel. Studies show that 8g of FOS daily, for two weeks can significantly increase the number of beneficial bacteria in the gut by up to 10 times. Lamberts’ FOS is extracted from chicory roots and is suitable for all ages. A sweet soluble powder, it can be mixed into cold or hot drinks, sprinkled on cereals or eaten off the spoon.