The word probiotics has become heavily ingrained in marketing speak to promote food products that are rich in ‘friendly bacteria'.
These are bacteria which are beneficial for our digestive and immune system health.
But, as scientists have analysed some products and proven them to be pretty low in significant levels of these friendly bacteria (a study carried out on some of the probiotic drinks), manufacturers have turned to prebiotics as a supplement to add to various foods. But is there any real benefit in these prebiotic foods? Or is it just another marketing ploy?
A prebiotic is not the same as a probiotic. Most people now know that a probiotic is a bacteria which is put in yogurt or other dairy products to help it ferment and break down the sugars.
Probiotics are also available in pill or powder forms in a wide array of different bacteria formulas. Many traditionally fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, tempeh and miso are naturally rich in these friendly bacteria.
A prebiotic, however, is different. It is, in fact, a food fibre that occurs naturally in plants, that provides food to maintain and stimulate the growth of the beneficial bacteria in the human colon.
Prebiotics are also very good news as they help your body to absorb and utilise calcium better. As a fibre, prebiotics are much easier to add to foods to enhance them, as they are not as heat and light sensitive as probiotics are, so are much easier to transport and store.
You can get all these benefits straight from the source though, no need to buy any special ‘functional food'.
Foods particularly high in prebiotic fibre include: wholegrains, leeks, onions, asparagus, miso, bananas, garlic and Jerusalem |artichokes.
Fibre can be classified into two types: soluble and insoluble fibre. Both are essential in our diets but play different roles.
All fibre passes through the small intestine unchanged. The enzymes and juices there do not digest food fibres. The insoluble fibres are found in wheat, rye and barley and do not dissolve in water. The bacteria in the colon do not digest or ferment this insoluble fibre.
However, insoluble fibre does retain water and in so doing promotes a larger, softer stool, which is easier to pass. Insoluble fibre is essential to exercise the muscles of the colon, remove dietary cholesterol and help prevent diseases of the colon.
The other type of fibre, soluble fibre, does dissolve in water. As with all fibre, it also goes through the small intestine unchanged.
They are there for a purpose. When they are properly fed by an adequate amount and by the right types of fibre, certain health benefits occur.
We and our colon bacteria are mutually dependent on each other, a truly symbiotic relationship. We provide them with a moist, warm, oxygen-free environment, and feed them properly with the right kinds of food fibre. They, in turn, provide a very impressive list of health |benefits such as: