Gut health is a bit of a ‘buzz’ topic in nutrition at the moment, as research increases into links between our gut flora and mental health, disease prevention, digestive disorders and even our mood. This 2-part series will help explain the difference between prebiotics and probiotics, and what role each one has in promoting positive gut health.
What does gut health mean and why is it important?
Firstly – gut flora, intestinal flora, gut microbiota, microbiome, bacteria – they are words used to describe the microbial cells in our intestine. Our intestine is home to a lot of gut flora – more than a trillion. There is believed to be more than 500 different species in the gut. The main and most common type is bacteria – but again, there are different types of bacteria in the gut.
Some of the roles of these microbiota are essential to our human function – synthesis (making) of vitamin K and some amino acids, fermentation of undigested dietary fibre and protection against pathogens (foreign viruses and bacteria).
Our intestine naturally contains good and bad bacteria, and our body works to maintain homeostasis, or balance. The current research is looking at various situations when this balance may be affected – obesity, some types of cancer, use of antibiotics, digestive disorders, to name a few. We can’t necessarily change the bad bacteria in our gut – antibiotics, for example, target all bacteria whether good or bad – but we can promote and increase the numbers of good bacteria to assist in restoring gut homeostasis.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are considered the food for our gut cells – they are a special type of fibre found in some foods, that go completely undigested through our stomach and small intestine until they reach the large intestine. Here, the gut flora ferment, or break down the fibre into short chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These short chain fatty acids can be used as the energy source for the gut cells and the gut flora, but they also help maintain the integrity of the intestinal barrier.
What foods contain prebiotics?
Foods with a higher prebiotic content include:
- Legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans)
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Onions, leeks & spring onion
- Nectarines, white peaches
- Persimmon, tamarillo, grapefruit
- Cashews, pistachios
- Barley, rye, oats
Are there any side effects to having too many prebiotics?
As the prebiotics are fermented in the large intestine, one byproduct of this breakdown is gas. In some people, an excessive amount of undigestible fibre in a meal can lead to some wind or bloating. This can often be the case if you suddenly increase your diet from very little fibre, to high amounts of fibre. The recommendation is to slowly increase your intake of prebiotics over a week or two, and usually that will help your gut adjust to the higher levels and reduce the symptoms. Otherwise, there are ways to introduce these food types into your diet to assist with digestion issues. A dietitian can help you with this to ensure you are not completely eliminating key food groups from your diet.
Nicole Rumsey is a Dietitian here at Thrive Wellness Centre. Click here to book an appointment with her.
All of our friendly practitioners work evenings and/or weekends to assist making and attending appointments that little bit easier for you. For any queries, please contact our office on (08) 9478 3869.