What are prebiotics?

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What are prebiotics
What prebiotics are and why they're necessary to maintain a happy, healthy gut.

If you’re a gut-health enthusiast, you may notice that the iPhone doesn’t recognize the word “prebiotics.” That invalidation from Apple makes the modern American ask some questions:

  • Are prebiotics even real, or is this like Dogecoin?
  • If they are real, what are they?
  • Do they mean probiotics, and need to work on their proofreading skills? 

 

All valid questions. That’s why we’ll go over what prebiotics are (yes, they’re real!), and why they’re an important part of any healthful diet.

Definition of prebiotic 

The word prebiotic comes from two root words:

  1. Pre, meaning “before”
  2. Biotic, meaning “produced by life or living organisms”

Merriam-Webster defines prebiotic as “existing or occurring before the origin of life.” (Which sounds pretty existential and profound, doesn’t it?)

When we piece this together through the lens of gut health, we come to the following conclusions:

  1. Prebitoics come before a certain outcome. You can’t have good gut health without first getting your prebiotics right.
  2. Prebiotics involve real, living things. In our gut, prebiotics promote the life of good bacteria all throughout our gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

Put very simply, prebiotics are fermentable fiber that help nourish gut bacteria found throughout the intestinal tract. If we were to consider gut bacteria to be “seeds,” we could consider prebiotics to be the essential “water” that grows and nourishes them.

What are prebiotics?

The importance of gut bacteria

 

You may be wondering why we need to worry about our gut bacteria in the first place. It’s a good question! We spend a lot of time washing bacteria off of our hands and cursing bacteria for bad breath on our first date, so why focus on preserving bacteria in your gut? 

 

When we talk about the gut, we’re talking about everything from your mouth to your bum, and all the stuff in-between, too: esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine. 

 

Each part of your gut is lined with bacteria, and this collection of bacteria is called your gut flora, or gut microbiome. Nearly 100 trillion micro-organisms live in our GI tracts. That’s more than the entire Earth’s population! 

 

Your gut bacteria allow you to convert food into what your body needs to thrive. Your gut bacteria:

  • Break down food into forms your body can utilize
  • Assist with mineral and Vitamin absorption
  • Keep your immune system strong
  • Regulate blood sugar
  • Control inflammatory responses 
  • Boost metabolism 
  • Improve mental clarity 

 

Essentially, gut bacteria are the super-tiny MVPs of the GI tract. You couldn’t digest without them.

Prebiotics vs. probiotics

If prebiotics nourish our good gut bacteria (remember, “pre” = “before”), it makes sense that probiotics are new living bacteria we can introduce to the digestive system to sit alongside existing bacteria. 

Probiotics can be helpful. If you’re experiencing digestive issues, introducing new bacteria to your gut can help restore balance to your GI tract. However, if you’re not giving your gut bacteria enough food, they’ll continue to die. 

Let’s go back to our garden analogy: say we’re experiencing a terrible drought and our summer garden is shriveling up into a dead, barren wasteland. We can continue to bring new plants and flowers into our garden, but without any water (prebiotics), those plants will continue to shrivel up and die. Furthermore, we waste our time, money, and energy in the process. 

That’s not to say probiotics aren’t helpful—they can be! But they should be accompanied by prebiotics and a healthy dose of fiber. 

Prebiotics vs. fiber

Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of plants, and there are two types: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. 

  • Soluble fiber ferments in the colon (these are prebiotics)
  • Insoluble fiber does not ferment in the colon (these are NOT prebiotics)

Because soluble fiber ferments in the colon, this means it interacts with your gut bacteria. The fermentation allows gut bacteria to eat, be nourished, and grow. 

So, all prebiotics are fiber, but not all fibers are prebiotics. (Much like all hotdogs are sandwiches, but not all sandwiches are hotdogs.)

Balancing your prebiotics 

Gut bacteria, much like you and me, feed off of different foods. Some love avocados, others love celery, some love pineapple, etc. That’s why eating a varied diet is important; it ensures all of your different gut bacteria are getting the nutrients they need.

How to incorporate prebiotics into your diet

Lucky for all of us, there are tons of delicious plants out there that contain the prebiotic fiber we need to keep our gut microbiome happy and healthy. A few of my favorite staples include:

  • Jerusalem Artichoke
  • Garlic
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas

But, as much as I love Jerusalem Artichoke and garlic, incorporating them into my daily diet just isn’t realistic. That’s why I’ve found other ways to get my needed daily dose of prebiotics.

There are many capsules and supplements out there to help boost your prebiotic intake, but it can be hard to know what’s good quality vs. what’s a marketing scheme. And honestly, I usually forget to take these. There’s no enjoyment that comes with taking a pill, so I find it challenging to stay on track.

That’s why Mayawell is the only way I add prebiotics to my diet now. It comes in 4 bubbly flavors and has 5g of organic, hand-harvested prebiotic fiber in every can (that’s 20% of your daily value!). It’s also free of additives, fillers, stabilizers, and refined sugar. At only 40 calories per can, it’s the perfect, delicious way to reach your fiber goals. And it tastes good, so I never forget to drink it. 

Remember how we talked about balancing your prebiotics? Well, the cool thing about this prebiotic soda is that the Active Agave used to sweeten it retains up to 60% of a person’s existing gut bacteria. This means it’s diverse: it appeals to more types of gut bacteria than most foods.

Prebiotic fiber with Mayawell

Let’s see what you learned

Are you really ready for the real world of gut health? Could you explain what prebiotics are to your mom? Test your new knowledge with the fill-in-the-blank below:

  1. If we were to consider gut bacteria to be “seeds,” we could consider __________ to be the essential “water” that grows and nourishes them.
  2. __________ are new living bacteria we can introduce to the digestive system to sit alongside existing bacteria.
  3. Dietary ________ is an indigestible part of plants, and there are two types: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber.
  4. True/False: Eating a varied diet is important; it ensures all of your different gut bacteria are getting the nutrients they need.

Answers

  1. Prebiotics
  2. Probiotics
  3. Fiber
  4. True