Prebiotics – the unsung heroes of gut health

Posted on November 03, 2021

When you see the word, ‘probiotics’, what comes to mind? Yoghurt, sauerkraut, kombucha… often our first thoughts go to healthy live yeasts and bacteria that please our gut. But have you heard about prebiotics – the food for probiotics?

This week, first to seventh of November, is global prebiotics week. The theme this year is ‘Powering the Microbiome’, so to celebrate these unsung heroes of the gut, we are going to explain what prebiotics are and their benefits, the difference between the array of ‘biotics’ you may have heard of and discuss how low FODMAP prebiotics may fit into your diet.

What are prebiotics?

Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible fibre that pass through our gastrointestinal tract undigested and act as food for our good bacteria. Non-digestible fibre simply means that the material is not digested and absorbed in the human small intestine, so this type of fibre has no energy value. Instead, prebiotics are there to feed our probiotics, so they can live in our gut and perform their important functions.

Prebiotics, probiotics, postbiotics and synbiotics – what are the differences?

The term probiotic is derived from the Greek language, meaning ‘for life’. Probiotics are live microbes that when administered in adequate quantities, offer a health benefit to the host (that’s you, fellow human!). The important part of this definition to remember is that probiotics must be consumed in adequate amounts to offer benefits. In other words, one probiotic, or even one million probiotic organisms, are unlikely to do anything. In fact, probiotics should contain one billion to 10 billion viable organisms! A simple way to remember the difference between probiotics and prebiotics is that ‘pre’ means ‘for’, so prebiotics are food for probiotics and support the growth of beneficial microbes in our gut. Postbiotics are probiotic ‘waste’ – the by-products of the fermentation process. Such examples of postbiotics are organic acids, enzymes and bacteriocins. The term symbiotic is simply used when a product contains both probiotics and prebiotics.  Here is a how to guide on remembering the difference between the four terms:

Probiotics = live microbes
Prebiotics = food for probiotics
Postbiotics = waste product of probiotics
Synbiotic = probiotic + prebiotic

How do prebiotics benefit our health and gut health?

Prebiotics have several health benefits. Inherent to their function, they stimulate the growth of healthy gut flora, which means that abnormal flora and pathogens have less room to grow. Since prebiotics provide food for probiotics, they help probiotics produce more postbiotics, such as short chain fatty acids (waste). This is exactly like a human – the more food we eat, the more waste we produce. Short chain fatty acids play an important role in maintaining the integrity of our intestinal barrier, as well as regulating the immune system and inflammatory response.

I get it, prebiotics are great! Where do I find them?

Examples of prebiotic, high FODMAP foods are onion, garlic, artichoke, asparagus, legumes and wheat. These foods are typically removed when completing the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet. This is because fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) are prebiotic fibres, as well as FODMAPs. However, remember that the low FODMAP diet is not a no FODMAP diet – so you can still eat prebiotic fibres in FODMAP friendly quantities!

Some low FODMAP sources of prebiotics and their recommended serve sizes are listed below:

  • One medium, firm unripe banana
  • ¼ to ½ cup of canned lentils, rinsed and strained
  • ½ cup of eggplant
  • One small tomato
  • ½ cup rolled oats

For more options of low FODMAP foods download the FODMAP Friendly App, available for Apple /iPhones and Android.

As some phases of the low FODMAP diet can be restrictive in terms of the prebiotic fibres available to you, you may wish to take a prebiotic supplement. Nexira inavea™ range is the first range of carbon neutral prebiotic ingredients. Nexira inavea™ range is available for manufacturers here online.

Nexira inavea™ Baobab & Acacia and inavea™ Pure Acacia

= organic grade available

Nexira inavea™ Baobab & Acacia and inavea™ Pure Acacia are ingredients (not finished supplements). Indeed, they can be used for the formulation of supplements as well as snacks, confectionery, ice-creams, beverages… That’s why Nexira sell to B2B manufacturers (only).

Click here to watch this video to find out more on inavea™ BAOBAB ACACIA.

Click here to watch this video to find out more on inavea™ PURE ACACIA.

inavea™ White Paper

Click here for more on the inavea™ white paper.

In summary

Prebiotics are important food for our healthy gut microflora, and promote the production of beneficial by-products such as short chain fatty acids, that give integrity to our gut. Prebiotics are fibres found in a range of plant foods, many of which are considered high FODMAP foods, even in small quantities. However, not all prebiotic fibre containing foods are off limits, even in the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet. If you are concerned that you are not eating enough prebiotic-containing foods, you may wish to supplement with a product such as Nexira Inavea™ Baobab Acacia.

Deciding whether to minimise prebiotic FODMAP foods comes down to your established tolerance level after completing the low FODMAP challenge phase with a Dietitian. A FODMAP-trained Dietitian will help you establish which exact foods trigger your symptoms and what your individual threshold is. Through challenging your thresholds, you may be able to reintroduce some of these beneficial prebiotics and plant diversity back into your diet.

Written by: Charlotte Barber (Student Nutritionist)
Reviewed by: Kiarra Martindale (Accredited Practising Dietitian)

Share on LinkedInShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on Pinterest