‘RAW FOODS CONTAIN MORE PREBIOTICS THAN COOKED’
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…
BAC IN ACTION
‘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 GOOD NEWS
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.
FIND A BALANCE
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.