Most of us have heard about probiotics, the gut bacteria that help break down our food, reduce toxins, improve immunity, and generally make us happier, healthier humans.
But have you heard of prebiotics?
Prebiotics is a term that was only first coined in 1995, which is shocking given how important they are to a healthy gut microbiome.
Simply put, prebiotics are the favorite food source of the best gut bacteria. They are fibers and carbohydrates that help keep our gut bacteria healthier.
Or, if you prefer a more scientific description, here’s the latest one from an evolving field:
“Prebiotic: A nondigestible compound that, through its metabolism by microorganisms in the gut, modulates the composition and/or activity of the gut microbiota, thus conferring a beneficial physiological effect on the host.”
That’s a mouthful, but it’s important to note that most prebiotics are indigestible, so don’t let the word “carbohydrate” scare you into avoiding this essential tool for better health. They don’t get absorbed by your body.
Perhaps the best analogy to understand prebiotics is that they are the soil that a great garden can grow in. The garden is the gut microbiome with so many health benefits. But if a garden doesn’t have the right soil, it’s hard to grow anything. That’s where prebiotics come in.
Our ancestors understood the value of prebiotic-rich foods.
Even though modern science only began its study of prebiotics and probiotics relatively recently, most of the major cultures in world history have long traditions of using prebiotic-rich foods.
The nopal cactus, a tremendous source of dietary fiber and prebiotics, has long been a staple of many latin american cultures. Most varieties of beans are another great example of prebiotic rich foods, as are onions, and many roots, especially chicory root. All of these are foods with a history of traditional use.
It makes sense that cultures, over thousands of years, would naturally select the foods that made them healthier. But now that we know some of the science behind it, there’s even more reason to focus on getting more prebiotics.
Take nopal for example. Studies in animals have shown that nopal can help counter the effects of a high fat, high sugar diet, lowering inflammation and oxidative stress, and even improving brain function.
Prebiotics have also been shown to increase calcium absorption in post-menopausal women, an enormously important finding for reducing the risk of arthritis and osteoporosis.
How to get more prebiotics in your diet.
More and more standalone prebiotic products, like inulin powder and nopal supplements, are finding their way to the market. These are an easy way to add instant prebiotics to your diet.
But there’s something to be said for the old way of getting your prebiotics: in a diet of healthy, high fiber foods. Things like whole nopal, or black beans, will always be a great source of prebiotics.
As always, try to avoid processed foods that have had their fiber stripped away. Things like white flour and white rice don’t contain the prebiotics that your gut bacteria need.
And remember, one of the benefits of committing to a whole-food, high fiber diet (among many others) is that you are likely getting a higher amount of prebiotics, as most prebiotics are insoluble fibers.
Stay tuned for more information about an exciting and emerging health field!
Let’s get healthier, together.
Your friends at Santo Remedio