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What Is Prebiotic Fiber: Benefits, Uses?
Adding more prebiotics to your diet is one way to support your overall health. As a major food source for the good-for-you bacteria that live in and on your body, prebiotics run the gamut when it comes to helping the body function in a healthy way. But, unfortunately, they don’t get the spotlight that they deserve.
You may be thinking, “aren’t they called probiotics?” No! While they sound similar, they're pretty different. (Although both play a role in supporting digestive health.) As live organisms, probiotics offer numerous health benefits when we consume them by interacting with the existing beneficial bacteria in your gut.
But just like all living things, probiotics need fuel to survive. And that is where prebiotic fiber comes in. Eating probiotics without prebiotics will not serve you well.
The official definition of a prebiotic is “a substrate that is selectively utilized by host microorganisms conferring a health benefit.”
In more simplistic terms, prebiotics are non-living substrates—such as fiber, polyphenols, and more—that serve as food for beneficial microorganisms that live in and on your gut and body. When you ingest prebiotics, the beneficial microbes in your gut convert them to health-supporting compounds, such as short-chain fatty acids, which provide various benefits that can affect overall health.
One of the most common sources of prebiotics is fiber. Prebiotic fibers are nondigestible carbohydrates that the beneficial bacteria in your gut need in order to thrive.
What do we mean by “nondigestible?” Simply that this type of fiber is not broken down by the human body during the digestion process. Instead, it enters the small intestines and ultimately, supports the live bacteria that colonize this area of the body.
Although not all foods that contain dietary fiber are considered prebiotic fiber, there is no shortage of food choices when trying to up your prebiotic intake. Foods like Jerusalem artichoke, a slightly underripe banana, asparagus and garlic are all-natural sources of this key fiber. Prebiotic fiber can also be added to food products or can be taken as a dietary supplement.
Choosing to eat a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and other plants will help you take in enough prebiotic fiber to help keep your gut and entire body healthy. Of course, you can always lean on food items that have prebiotics added to them for the same benefits.
Other Names For Prebiotic Fiber
If you are seeking out prebiotic fiber on the label of your favorite food or drink, you may come up empty-handed.
While prebiotics is not a term that you will always see listed as an ingredient, some other names you may find include inulin, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and galactooligosaccharides (GOS). Consuming foods that contain these elements, such as chicory root and Jerusalem artichoke, will also help you on your quest to eat more of this fiber.
How Prebiotic Fiber Works
Just like humans need food in order to survive, the live bacteria that call your large intestine home need to be provided with fuel that supports and helps them thrive. Essentially, prebiotics act as “food” for these bacteria.
“Good” bacteria line the inside of your gut and offer a host of beneficial roles in your body. Feeding these good-for-you bacteria with prebiotic fiber is one of the best ways to support a healthy microbiome.
When you eat foods that contain prebiotics, your digestive system gets to work breaking down the food into smaller parts. Protein to amino acids, complex carbohydrates to simple sugars like glucose, and fats into fatty acids. That doesn’t happen with fiber. In fact, when you consume fiber, it’s not your body that breaks it down—it’s the bacteria in your large intestine!
Because your body can’t break down fiber, that fiber passes through your digestive system until it makes its way into your large intestine. Here is where the live and active bacteria living in your gut microbiome get to work metabolizing it to produce several compounds, like short chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFAs can benefit our health by strengthening the gut barrier, balancing blood sugar, supporting the immune system, and promoting a healthy digestive system.
Health Benefits of Prebiotic Fiber
Eating fiber in general helps support a healthy gut and aids in preventing constipation. But prebiotics are not just any fiber, and eating them is linked to health benefits that include:
- Aiding in increasing the amount of certain beneficial bacteria species in the gut (namely, bifidobacteria and lactobacilli, bacteria that help support our immune and gut health).
- Supporting calcium absorption. Data shows that prebiotics can positively change the gut microbiota make-up, produce short-chain fatty acids, and decrease intestinal pH (making it more acidic); these are all factors that help support bone health and aid the body absorbing calcium effectively.
- Decreasing the amount of harmful bacteria in the gut. Prebiotic fiber selectively “feeds” helpful bacteria. This can result in the gut having a lower pH (become more acidic). Since more harmful bacteria like e. Coli can’t live in an environment with a super-low pH, taking in enough prebiotics can help keep the harmful bacteria at bay.
- Decreasing allergy risk.
Possible Side Effects of Prebiotic Fiber
Including prebiotic fiber in your diet comes with little risk and won’t cause any long-term harm to most people. But, of course, there are always exceptions to the rules.
If you are not used to consuming fiber foods in general, your gut may need some time to adjust to the boost if you start eating prebiotic fiber consistently. Some people may feel bloated, gassy, and may experience abdominal pain after they consume a prebiotic-rich food. These symptoms should go away once the body gets used to the adjustment in the gut.
If a person has a diagnosed gastrointestinal disorder (like IBS), prebiotics should be taken under the supervision of your health care provider.
What To Look For
When you are trying to increase the amount of prebiotic fiber in your diet, there are many things you can look for. Simply increasing the amount of plants that you consume can help you meet your prebiotic quota, simply by virtue of the natural fiber content that these foods provide. If you eat a variety of plants, chances are, you are also consuming prebiotics.
Choosing foods like asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, garlic, fennel, chickpeas, cassava root, onions, and chicory root are all excellent additions to your prebiotic-rich diet.
When choosing foods that are enhanced with prebiotic fiber, look for ingredients such as chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, fructans, fructooligosaccharides (FOS), and inulin fiber.
If you are considering supplements, look for verification that the product is third party verified because supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the United States in the same way that food is. Also, make sure that you are taking pills that are not expired and have not been stored in hot environments.
Prebiotic Fiber In OLIPOP
Most sodas are void of nutritional value. Combining food coloring with high fructose corn syrup and carbonated water results in a very sweet drink that is loaded with sugars and not much else.
OLIPOP is different. Our sodas contain unique ingredients with research-backed nutritional benefits. Every can contains 9 grams of prebiotic fiber from chicory root, Jerusalem artichoke, and cassava root, which can help fuel your body with ingredients shown to support digestive health and a healthy microbiome.
Having a soda that contains prebiotic fiber is one simple and convenient way to support your gut health in a delicious and functional way. Drinking a can of OLIPOP will not only satisfy your sweet tooth, but it will also give your body a boost of nutrients that support overall health.
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- Team, GMFH Editing. “Short-Chain Fatty Acids.” Gut Microbiota for Health, July 14, 2016. https://www.gutmicrobiotaforhealth.com/short-chain-fatty-acids/.
- Prebiotics are non-living substrates, such as fiber and polyphenols, that serve as food for beneficial microorganisms that live in and on your gut and body.
- Prebiotic Fiber has many health benefits such as supporting the growth of beneficial bacteria, supporting calcium absorption, and decreasing levels of harmful bacteria in the gut.