For a few years now, you’ve probably been reading about how probiotics are the “good” bacteria. Certainly, if you’ve read my blog before, you know they help support your digestive system by regulating the growth of destructive – or “bad” – bacteria and help to keep those nasty buggers at bay.
And of course, when the majority of the bacteria in your gut are good, you can feel it. Surely, even your friends and family know you’re healthy… you’ve got that glow.
Turns out, all these good bacteria can help you:
- Digest food
- Keep your skin healthy
- Reduce occurrences of leaky gut
- Reach a healthy body weight
- Absorb vital nutrients (like vitamins B12 and K2)
And probiotics give your immune system reliable backup.
But there’s a “battle” going on in your gut – a fight between good and bad bacteria. And without the right tools on your side, the bad bacteria may end up winning.
So, when it comes to the battle of good vs. bad bacteria – or gut bugs, as I like to call them – in your gut, there’s an up-and-coming defender that can make a real difference:
Prebiotic fiber can help to change your body’s digestive health – and therefore the overall health game.
So, just what are prebiotics?
Well, prebiotics are a specific type of fiber used mostly by your good gut bugs as a sort of fuel.
With the help of prebiotics, your good gut bugs can create the substances they need in order to acidify your gut. But these substances are also important because they can serve as a source of nutrients for the cells in your colon.
Why is that important?
Well, because nutrients are broken down to their final form by enzymes embedded in your intestinal wall. So, the better-nourished those cells are, the more efficiently they can process the nutrients the rest of your body needs in order to stay healthy.
And prebiotic fiber sustains your “good” gut bugs – so they’re able to double down and work overtime to improve how well nutrients are absorbed in your digestive tract.
But how exactly do they support nutrient absorption?
It’s pretty cool, actually.
You see, when polyphenols – the natural compounds that help protect plants from various hazards – like flavonoids and flavanols reach your digestive tract, the bacteria in your gut start to break them down so your body can absorb them.
Interestingly, this process has a sort of “controlled release.” That way, your body gets a continuous stream of these vital nutrients throughout the entire day.
So, while probiotics restock your good bacteria inventory … prebiotics boost the development of, maintain, and cultivate the good gut bugs already in your system.2
In other words, probiotics replant the seeds in your gut’s garden, and prebiotic fiber waters them.
The lowdown on prebiotic fiber
Now, prebiotic fiber is a nondigestible carbohydrate plant fiber. So, because it can’t be digested, your good gut bugs happily munch on it.
And while foods like these can provide some natural prebiotic fiber…
- Jerusalem artichokes
… it can be quite challenging to get enough from food alone.
Of course, the benefits of dietary fiber have been touted for quite some time. And in some instances, it’s been shown that a higher intake of dietary fiber could be linked to fewer heart health issues. Not only that, but higher fiber intake is also connected to lower body weight.3
But the definition of “dietary fiber” is changing.
You see, initially, only polysaccharides were considered dietary fibers, but lately, the medical and nutrition world is including oligosaccharides as dietary fiber because of their physiological effects.4
Just to be clear …
- Polysaccharides are carbohydrates whose molecules consist of several bonded sugar molecules.
- Oligosaccharides are carbohydrates whose molecules are made of a small number of monosaccharide units.
Why is that important?
Even though all prebiotics are fiber, not all fiber is prebiotic.
In order for an ingredient to be considered prebiotic, science has to have proven that the ingredient:
- Can resist gastric acidity
- Is fermented by intestinal microflora
- And can stimulate the development of “good” intestinal bacteria6
So, prebiotic fiber is essentially a superfuel for your good gut bugs!
These special digestive bacteria – which can be found in substances like flax and chicory inulin – can make a huge difference in nourishing your gut lining.
In the end, remember: Prebiotic fiber helps your good gut bugs do their jobs. And the harder your good gut bugs work, the more you’re able to absorb all the goodness the best whole foods have to offer.
So in the end, prebiotic fiber can help construct a healthy colony of good bacteria in your colon and nourish them with the fiber they need most to succeed.
2.Yoo, J. & Kim, S. (2017). Probiotics and Prebiotics: Present Status and Future Perspectives on Metabolic Disorders.