Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Prebiotics

This post originally appeared on Have Your Health, a past blog of mine active from 2013-14.


While reading some articles for my post about why I stopped taking probiotics, I was introduced to the concept of prebiotics. My stance is that taking a probiotic supplement isn't enough, and the necessity of prebiotics is one reason why.

Probiotics vs. Prebiotics

To put it simply, probiotics are live bacteria living in your gut, whereas prebiotics can be thought of as food for your flora. Prebiotics are plant fibers that your body cannot digest. But it doesn't go to waste - these fibers nourish the good bacteria in your large intestine, like a fertilizer. Prebiotics are often called soluble fiber.

Foods that contain prebiotics

The following raw foods contain prebiotics that can keep your flora fed and happy. I was unfamiliar with some of these foods, so I've included a few pictures and descriptions.

Jerusalem Artichoke

The Jerusalem Artichoke is actually a type of sunflower with sunny yellow petals, not an artichoke. The part of the flower that you see below is the "tuber".Jerusalem Artichoke
Jerusalem Artichoke
Photo Source: www.bbcgoodfood.com

Chicory Root

The Chicory flower (common names: blue dandelion, blue daisy) usually has blue flowers, and its leaves are sometimes used in salads.

Acacia Gum

Acacia Gum, also known as Gum Arabic, is hardened sap taken from two types of acacia trees. Most Acacia Gum is harvested in the African Sahel today, though it was harvested in Arabia and West Asia historically.
Acacia Gum (Gum Arabic)
Acacia Gum
Photo Source:Photo Source: www.gardatraining.com

Common Foods

Prebiotic sources I am familiar with include raw onion, raw garlic, beans, banana, raw leek, and raw asparagus.

Eating enough prebiotics

When looking at figures of how much of these foods you would need to eat in order to reach the recommended daily serving of prebiotics, the task seems impossible. Over one pound of bananas? A quarter pound of raw asparagus? Daily?! It makes me question who came up with these recommended daily amounts, if it wasn't a friend of the prebiotic supplement business, perhaps.

I'd also like to point out that you'll ingest the prebiotics when these foods are eaten raw. Cooked onions and cooked garlic, for example, won't provide nearly as many prebiotics. One final warning for any IBSers, eating large quantities of prebiotics may increase gas/bloating/bowel movements immediately after ingesting them. This is probably due to the fact that prebiotics are not common in a typical American diet. I wouldn't let this stop you from eating these foods though, just be aware that it could happen.

Prebiotics help probiotics

So you see, probiotics can't (and don't) exist alone in your gut. They need nutrients from prebiotics in order to thrive and keep your flora healthy, which is one reason why just taking a probiotic supplement isn't enough for your interconnected digestive system.

I certainly have not been eating foods on this list, apart from my two daily bananas. Last week I bought a bag of sweet potatoes and started eating those, but I should see if any of these food items are available here in Korea. The reality of the situation though is that with under three months to go in this country, it's not a high priority item for me to figure out what these are called in Korean (or if they even exist here) and go on a wild goose chase to find them.

Moving forward, I'd like to learn what sorts of foods feed the "bad guys," so I can build habits to avoid those foods.
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