Gut health has emerged as a hot topic recently. With the surge of information on the Internet, how well do you understand the role each nutrient plays in keeping the gut healthy?

As we all know, prebiotics and probiotics are the two main essential ‘culprits’ for maintaining the balance of the gut microbiome. Just like how the world’s largest tropical rainforest, The Amazon rainforest has a diverse species of plants and animals to maintain an ecosystem, regulating the world’s oxygen and carbon cycles. 1

Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits to the digestive and immune system whilst prebiotics is a type of fibre (Note: not all fibres are prebiotics), they serve as the food source for probiotics in order to keep them going. Essentially, both nutrients are important when we talk about gut health. If you haven’t read about probiotics, feel free to check it out. (Insert link to the previous probiotics post?)

In order to be recognised as a prebiotic, they need to have the following characteristics:2

  1. It should be resistant to acidic pH of stomach, cannot be hydrolysed by mammalian enzymes, and also should not be absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract, 
  2. It can be fermented by intestinal microbiota, 
  3. The growth and/or activity of the intestinal bacteria can be selectively stimulated by this compound and this process improves host’s health

Some positive health benefits attributed by prebiotics include:

  • Possible protection against colon cancer
  • Improve mineral absorption
  • Improve blood glucose and insulin profiles
  • Protect against intestinal infections
  • Improve immune system and improves existing inflammatory conditions

However, due to the relatively new discovery in this area, accurately designed long-term clinical trials and genomics investigations around this area are still scarce to further confirm the health claim. It is always best to consult an evidence-based source to prevent yourself from falling into the trap of the unknown.

While more research is needed, we could always start by going for the natural way – eating a diverse selection of plant-based foods! This could be easily done by incorporating them into different mealtimes. Foods that contain inulin, fructo-oligosaccharides (fructans, FOS) and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) are naturally high in prebiotics: 

Vegetables Jerusalem artichokes, chicory, garlic, onion, leek, shallots, spring onion, asparagus, beetroot, fennel bulb, green peas, snow peas, sweetcorn, savoy cabbage
Legumes Chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans
Fruit Custard apples, nectarines, white peaches, persimmon, tamarillo, watermelon, rambutan, grapefruit, pomegranate.  Dried fruit (eg. dates, figs)
Bread / cereals / snacks Barley, rye bread, rye crackers, pasta, gnocchi, couscous, wheat bran, wheat bread, oats
Nuts and seeds Cashews, pistachio nuts
Other Human breast milk

Here’s some simple and easy meal ideas for you to kick start your day packed with prebiotics:

  • Rolled oats with low-sugar yoghurt topped with choice of fresh fruit
  • Wholegrain toast with sliced banana and natural peanut butter
  • Vita-Weat crispbread with Sweet Potato Hummus
  • Baked sweet potato salad with tuna 
  • Tofu & Veggie stir-fry with brown rice 

*Note: Underlines food contains prebiotics

A side note for people with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), please note that foods that are naturally high in prebiotics are usually high FODMAP foods, so please consult an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) before commencing any to prevent the worsening of symptoms. 

Written By: Ms Kee June Ooi (Accredited Practising Dietitian)

References:

  1. https://wwf.panda.org/discover/knowledge_hub/where_we_work/amazon/about_the_amazon/why_amazon_important/
  2. Gibson G.R., Scott K.P., Rastall R.A., Tuohy K.M., Hotchkiss A., Dubert-Ferrandon A., Gareau M., Murphy E.F., Saulnier D., Loh G., et al. Dietary prebiotics: Current status and new definition. Food Sci. Technol. Bull. Funct. Foods. 2010;7:1–19. doi: 10.1616/1476-2137.15880.
  3. https://www.monash.edu/medicine/ccs/gastroenterology/prebiotic/faq#3

 

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