If you’ve ever seen a yogurt ad on TV, chances are, you know what probiotics are. (The healthy, helpful bacteria that live in your digestive system helping you to feel well, break down food, and absorb nutrients) However, have you heard of PREbiotics? Prebiotics may be discussed less, but they’re still important for good health and digestion. Are you getting enough prebiotics? What can they do for you? Find out with this article.
Prebiotics are what probiotic bacteria eat.
When you feed the beneficial bacteria, they thrive and stamp out bad bacteria for you. Making sure to keep your "little helpers" healthy and well fed will help your digestive process as well. Beneficial bacteria eat things that are indigestible for you; namely, soluble fiber. Both types of dietary fiber are indigestible for humans—neither type can be broken down by the body to use as calories or energy.
Insoluble fiber (sometimes known as roughage) is important because it helps move food through the digestive tract easily, and in a timely manner. When food proceeds through the intestines at a healthy rate, bad bacteria, yeast, and byproducts of digestion are swept away and don’t get a chance to irritate the intestine or accidentally get absorbed by the body. This type of fiber also helps keep food moist, which aids in the body’s ability to break it down for nutrients.
Soluble fiber is a prebiotic. You may not be able to digest it, but the beneficial bacteria can. Soluble fiber appears as a gel-like substance in certain foods. You can find it in legumes, beans, peanuts, apricots, Brussels sprouts, mangoes, turnips and especially in chia seeds. With the chia seed, you can actually see with the naked eye, the soluble fiber of each seed when you expose them to water. A bead of gel will form on the outside of the seed, letting you easily see what the soluble fiber is doing. Unlike Brussels sprouts, you won’t find anyone who hates chia seeds because they have no flavor at all. (Plus, chia has loads of other benefits like calcium, magnesium, complete protein & b-vitamins too!)
Increasing the amount and the health of beneficial bacteria can increase the bio availability of nutrients in foods for you. What is bio availability? It’s how much of the nutrients in a food you can absorb. For example, milk has calcium and so do dark, leafy greens. The calcium in the greens is lower (the total) than it is in dairy products, but the bio availability is higher. You may only absorb 30% of the calcium in a dairy product, but you absorb 61% of the calcium in broccoli. Having lots of healthy bacteria in the colon increases bio availability of calcium and magnesium, which are great for bone health.
What else does soluble fiber do for you?
It can help you lose weight by making you feel full faster. It retains water (0 calories) and takes up space in the digestive system, promoting feelings of fullness without adding calories. It helps remove bile acid (a byproduct of the liver helping with digestion), which may in turn lower cholesterol levels. The actions of the bacteria to ferment the soluble fiber also create chemicals that signal to the brain "it’s time to feel full". As more research is done, still more benefits of fiber come to light.
How can you get enough soluble fiber?
Now that you know how great soluble fiber is for you, you’ll want to be sure you’re getting enough. The best ways to get soluble fiber are from seeds, beans, vegetables and fruits. These things are already good for you, and provide more nutritious benefits than just the fiber itself. The chicory root is extremely high in soluble fiber, but can you find it on your grocery store shelves? You need easy, tasty solutions because soluble fiber should be eaten every day. Lots of pre-packaged, refined foods don’t have enough. Bacteria are tiny, they need to be fed each day, so it’s important to find a variety of foods you enjoy so you can keep soluble fiber on the menu every day.
Looking up "soluble fiber content of…" and then adding a favorite food’s name to the phrase in a search engine online is a good place to start. Sweet potatoes, bananas, rye, garlic and onions also have soluble fiber. However, chia seeds can be added to anything you already like to eat (unlike an onion) to power up that item with soluble fiber. You can sprinkle them in yogurt (a generally fiber free food), put them on pizza, bake them into cookies, breads or cakes, and add them to smoothies. Because they don’t have a flavor, you won’t even notice they’re there. When you c an add soluble fiber to almost any food, it makes it much easier to get your daily recommended amount and keep your probiotic bacteria in good shape.