Primarily dismissed as an unattractive means to an end—no pun intended—the digestive track was overlooked for decades as little more than our bodies waste disposal system. As recent medical and scientific research has indicated, nothing could be further from the truth.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reports that upward of 60 million to 70 million Americans are affected by digestive diseases. According to draxe.com, over 80% of your entire immune system is located in your digestive tract. Dr. Axe goes on to say, “The secret to restoring your digestive health is all about balancing out the good and bad bacteria in your gut.”
Acting as a benefactor towards a healthy gut, fighting issues in the digestive tract, and aiding your immune system, probiotics are found in dairy products, other food items, and can also be purchased in a variety of pill and liquid forms. You may already be taking a daily dose of these helpful live organisms in one form or another as part of your personal wellness regime and there are many delightful choices on the market. I prefer a non-sweetened, low-fat or no-fat yogurt as my once-a-day choice. Like me, perhaps you have been familiar with probiotics and their positive effects for a while now.
But have you met probiotics close cousin, the prebiotic? Prebiotics also live in the gut and are indigestible plant fiber that the probiotics feed on. And, as you might guess, the more prebiotics that probiotics have to feed on, the greater the benefit to your gut health. A good way to differentiate between the two is remembering that probiotics are living organisms and prebiotics are a functional food source.
Prebiotics, and their importance towards our overall wellness, were first identified in 1995 when researchers made the surprising discovery that these undigested foods serve as nourishment for the friendly stomach bacteria—the probiotics. Sarah Pope, the Healthy Home Economist, promotes prebiotics for more than just the helping hand they provide for probiotics. Sarah says, “A specific type of prebiotic known as resistant starch is showing much promise far and beyond gut health benefits. Not only is it turned into energy boosting, inflammation squashing short-chain fatty acids by probiotic bacteria, but resistant starch is also proving helpful for stabilizing blood glucose levels, increasing insulin sensitivity, reducing appetite by increasing satiation, and encouraging weight loss that is easier to maintain.” Wow—I don’t know about you, but I would gladly take these added benefits, too!
Foods that are rich in prebiotics include chicory root, barley, oats, dandelion greens, seaweed, apples, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, bananas (the green is better for the resistant starch), cocoa, flax-seeds, and jicama root. Most sources suggest that eating the foods raw provides the optimum prebiotic value but that there is prebiotic benefit after cooking as well. Like probiotics, prebiotics can be found in supplement form for individuals who want to give their prebiotic intake a boost. And, as I always like to caution—it is a good idea to talk to a trusted medical professional when adding new supplements to your diet.