Women's Health (UK) - - EAT SMART -

Your pro­bi­otic game is strong: you fer­ment your own sauer­kraut, you down kom­bucha shots like they’re go­ing out of fash­ion and there ain’t much you won’t sprin­kle with ke­fir. There’s no doubt­ing the good bac­te­ria are boom­ing in your gut, boost­ing your body’s im­mu­nity, weight loss ef­forts and even men­tal health. But here’s the big ques­tion: are you feed­ing those guys? Sorry to be the one to tell you but, with­out pre­bi­otics, you’re prob­a­bly not. This is where gut health gets re­ally in­ter­est­ing…


‘Pre­bi­otics feed the good bac­te­ria you al­ready have in your di­ges­tive sys­tem,’ says nu­tri­tion­ist and chef Zoe Bin­g­ley-pullin. Ba­si­cally, they’re fer­tilis­ers for the gut, tak­ing all those healthy pro­bi­otics you’ve so clev­erly con­sumed and fir­ing them up to do their best work. ‘Pre­bi­otics are fi­bres and car­bo­hy­drates found in food that re­sist di­ges­tion in the small in­tes­tine, which then reach the colon where they’re fer­mented by gut flora.’ As they pass through the stom­ach and in­testines, swerv­ing di­ges­tion from en­zymes and acids, they be­come fuel for pro­bi­otic com­pounds, aid­ing the di­ver­sity of in­testi­nal bac­te­ria and up­ping the ex­is­tence of those known to be ‘friendly’, like lac­to­bacilli and bi­fi­dobac­te­ria. ‘In the past, the ap­proach was to “re­colonise” your gut with pro­bi­otic bac­te­ria via sup­ple­ments or foods like yo­ghurt,’ says nu­tri­tion­ist Kris­ten Beck. In other words, bom­bard the gut with good stuff. ‘But it’s now recog­nised that over­all diet qual­ity, in­clud­ing pre­bi­otics, is as im­por­tant as re­colonis­ing your di­ges­tive sys­tem in main­tain­ing nat­u­rally oc­cur­ring ben­e­fi­cial bac­te­ria,’ con­tin­ues Beck.


The best way to get your fill of these essen­tial fi­bres is by eat­ing a healthy, balanced diet packed with fruit and veg­eta­bles. ‘If you reach your nu­tri­tional re­quire­ments for fruit (two serv­ings) and veg (five por­tions) each day, plus some nuts, seeds and whole grains, you al­ready con­sume more than enough pre­bi­otics to feed your di­ges­tive bac­te­ria,’ says Beck. But sur­veys sug­gest over 60% of Brits don’t hit the rec­om­mended tar­gets, so it’s worth think­ing tac­ti­cally about the foods you should be eat­ing to in­crease your pre­bi­otic in­take. A rel­a­tively sim­ple first step? Raw foods gen­er­ally con­tain more pre­bi­otics than cooked, so swap your cooked veg­eta­bles for a salad and you’re well on your way. Want to go fur­ther? Check out our panel (op­po­site) for top foodie choices that are teem­ing with pre­bi­otics.


But can you ac­tu­ally overdo it? For most peo­ple, it’s un­likely. While you should avoid over­con­sum­ing any type of food, what would hap­pen if you maxed out your pre­bi­otic in­take? ‘Rather than ex­pe­ri­ence an ad­verse re­ac­tion, it’s sim­ply likely you wouldn’t gain any ad­di­tional ben­e­fit,’ says Beck. How­ever, if you suf­fer from ir­ri­ta­ble bowel syn­drome (IBS) or have on­go­ing stom­ach trou­bles, see a doc­tor be­fore chang­ing your diet. ‘If you have dys­bio­sis (an­other name for an im­bal­ance of good and bad bac­te­ria), con­sum­ing a large amount of pro­bi­otics and pre­bi­otics may well add fuel to the fire,’ ex­plains Bin­g­ley-pullin. Bad bac­te­ria feed off pre­bi­otics, too, so it’s im­por­tant to weed out the bad – by eat­ing a balanced diet con­tain­ing whole foods and pro­bi­otics and min­imis­ing your in­take of su­gar – be­fore try­ing to feed the good. ‘And if dys­bio­sis is present, eat­ing a lot of pre­bi­otics may trig­ger Ibs-type symp­toms – es­pe­cially bloat­ing.’ That said, ad­ding ex­tra fi­bre can be a shock to the sys­tem, so in­tro­duce it grad­u­ally and be sure to stay hy­drated. Ready to su­per­charge your diet with some pre­bi­otic good­ness? Go on – your good bac will love it.

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