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What are prebiotics? They are the “food” your good gut bacteria (probiotics) need for good growth. Technically, prebiotics are a type of carbohydrate (oligosaccharide) that we humans do not digest. That (digestion) is done by the good gut bacteria. Basically, foods rich in fiber are also good sources of prebiotics. Oligosaccharides are also called soluble fiber and fermentable fiber.

OK. I must give you a tiny chemistry lesson about carbohydrates. There are simple sugars -monosaccharides like glucose and fructose. There are complex carbohydrates also called starches – polysaccharides (many molecules joined together. Then there are the oligosaccharides that have 3-10 of the simple sugars (monosaccharides) joined together; inulin is an example. More examples below.

Again, I like the lawn comparison. If you want to have a beautiful lawn you not only need good seed (probiotics) but also proper fertilizer (prebiotics) & water. Probiotics are a bit more difficult to get in your diet, but prebiotics are plentiful. Prebiotics are plentiful in human milk. We want to consume foods that promote good gut bacteria, reduce inflammation and inhibit the bad gut bacteria.

Current recommendations suggest 5 grams of prebiotic daily. That is a very tiny amount. Studies suggest that most Americans only get about 1-3 grams in their diet.

Don’t look for the word “prebiotic” on labels because it is rarely used. However, if the label contains:

  • Galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS)
  • Fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS)
  • Oligofructose (OF)
  • Inulin
  • Beta-glucan

Those are excellent prebiotics. 

Prebiotics also help calcium absorption. You absorb calcium (with the help of Vit D) only till about 20 years of age. Beyond that, calcium absorption is almost non-existent, even with supplements.

Many foods contain these prebiotics but many of them are not in our typical diet. Chicory root, dandelion greens and Jerusalem artichokes are excellent sources of prebiotics but few of us use those products.

  • Garlic is a great source of prebiotics. 11% of garlic’s fiber is inulin and 6 % is FOS. Onion has similar concentrations of inulin and FOS.
  • Leeks have 16% of inulin fiber. They are also a great source of Vit K.
  • Asparagus has 2-3 grams of inulin in about 3-4 oz.
  • Beans, lentils and chick peas
  • Apples contain pectin which increases butyrate that also feeds good gut bacteria.

Best to eat as close to raw because cooking will eliminate some of the probiotic.
How much of those foods do you have to eat?

  • 4-5 oz cooked onion;
  • 4-5 oz raw asparagus;
  • 4-5 oz raw wheat bran;
  • 2 oz raw leeks
  • 1.3 lb. bananas 

One of my favorites is chocolate!!! Yes, especially dark chocolate. The breakdown of cocoa in the gut produces nitric oxide which is a powerful antioxidant. A recent study at Louisiana State University found that the gut bacteria ferment chocolate into these antioxidants that shut down the genes linked to insulin resistance and inflammation. It also contains flavanols that promote more good bacterial growth. Combining apple with chocolate causes a more rapid fermentation process leading to an even greater degree of anti-inflammatory effect.

Leafy greens, especially spinach, contain a long molecule that goes to the lower intestine where it strengthens good bacteria and inhibit the growth of the bad ones. It also has a lot of Vit K. 

These are many easy sources of prebiotics in a normal diet. Reluctantly, I will admit that there are powdered and pill forms of pro and prebiotics. I always prefer the natural food sources because food contains many more ingredients that work together. A vitamin pill is NOT a substitute for a good balanced diet. PLEASE!!! Start these healthy approaches from infancy. It’s very hard to turn back from years of unhealthy convenience.

Where your children's health comes first.