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What Are Prebiotics (And Why Should You Include Them in Your Diet)?

rotation diet, healthy fats

By now, you’ve certainly heard of probiotics and the incredible health benefits they provide. But what about prebiotics?

Prebiotics are a unique form of carbohydrates (mostly fiber) that are indigestible to humans. Where probiotics are the beneficial bacteria, prebiotics are the food that feeds them!

Since your body can’t break prebiotics down, they pass through the upper digestive tract and into the colon where they are fermented by healthy gut flora. This strengthens the “good” bacteria in your gut while promoting the growth of more.

And this process provides a wide range of health benefits…

What Health Benefits Do Prebiotics Offer?

Better digestion, stronger immunity, improved heart health, less inflammation and a sunnier mood.

These are just some of the benefits experienced by adding prebiotics to your diet. Now let’s take a look at how these unique carbohydrates work in our bodies to produce health-promoting results…

Better Gut Health and Digestion

Hippocrates said: “All disease begins in the gut”. Though the wisdom of the Father of Medicine is over 2,000 years old, more scientific studies emerge each year proving this to be a more powerful statement than even Hippocrates himself may have realized at the time.

If your gut isn’t healthy, you can’t be healthy.

It really is that simple. Once you start improving your gut health, everything else falls into place. And prebiotics (along with probiotics) will help you do just that.

From a study published in the Journal of Nutrition[1]

“A developing body of evidence supports a role for prebiotics in reducing the risk and severity of GI infection and inflammation, including diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and ulcerative colitis as well as bowel function disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome.”

This means if you are living with any kind of inflammatory bowel condition, adding prebiotics to your diet can help relieve these conditions naturally.

Many individuals with inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis undergo bowel resection. While this may temporarily ease the pain and symptoms, the prognosis for this type of surgery is not good.

In fact, research shows that 50 percent of patients will become symptomatic again within five years! [2]This could indicate the need for more surgery, steroids, and anti-inflammatory drugs.

These conventional methods may address the symptoms of an inflammatory bowel disease… but not the cause.

Enter prebiotics.

A 2008 study published in Advances in Biochemical Engineering/Biotechnology[3] states:

“Research has shown that higher intakes of prebiotic foods can increase numerous probiotic microorganisms, including Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, L. reuteri, bifidobacteria, and certain strains of L. casei or the L. acidophilus-group.”

Another wonderful benefit of having a variety and abundance of good bacteria in the gut is that while the bacteria are fermenting the prebiotics, they produce a short-chain fatty acid call butyric acid, which has been shown to improve the health of your intestinal lining[4] while reducing inflammation[5].

Treat and Reverse Inflammatory and Metabolic Diseases

Millions struggle with chronic pain and inflammatory diseases. One of these diseases includes our nation’s number one killer: heart disease.

Studies have shown that the consumption of prebiotics helps to reduce inflammation and promote healthy cholesterol levels thereby lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.[6]

While the prebiotics are at work in your gut, they also reduce inflammation throughout your entire body, which can be incredibly beneficial in treating a variety of metabolic diseases (including type 2 diabetes)[7] and autoimmune conditions.[8]

Improve Immune Health

According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition[9], consuming prebiotics causes something called the “prebiotic effect”, which is associated with modulating the activities of the immune system, and reducing the concentration of cancer-promoting enzymes and bacterial metabolites in the gut.

This means prebiotics may have a significant role in the prevention of cancer.

In fact, a study published in Nutritional Reviews[10] claims:

“Prebiotics may prevent colorectal cancer (CRC) development in humans by modifying the composition or activity of the colorectal microflora.”

As prebiotics enhance immunity, the can offer a significant reduction in yeast infections, digestive disorders, urinary tract infections, and cognitive disorders, as well.

Reduce Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

As mentioned briefly above, prebiotics have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Previous in vivo studies[11]have shown that both probiotics and prebiotics were effective in reducing serum/plasma total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.

In addition, the ability of the prebiotics to balance the body’s electrolyte and mineral levels helps control blood pressure. [12]

Another bonus for your heart!

Helps Maintain a Healthy Body Weight

If you find your appetite is insatiable and you have difficulty controlling your weight, prebiotics may be just what the doctor ordered.

A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition[13] showed that prebiotic foods help you maintain a healthy body weight in two ways

  • They promote a sense of fullness and satiety.
  • They reduce levels of ghrelin, the body’s ‘hunger hormone’.

Improve Mental Health and Mood

If you struggle with anxiety or depression, prebiotics can help there too. In fact, prebiotics have also been found to help you feel happier, calmer, and more in control of your moods.

In a 2005 study published in Psychopharmacology[14], study participants who received prebiotics (instead of a placebo) for three weeks showed positive changes in their levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. The prebiotic group also exhibited decreased “attentional vigilance” to negative versus positive information on an emotional test.

Increased Bone Density

Many nutrients – including calcium, vitamin K2, vitamin D and magnesium – are known to help keep your bones strong. But if your gut cannot properly digest these nutrients, they won’t be put to use in your body.

Prebiotics have been shown to enhance the absorption of essential nutrients, including the uptake of calcium, which leads to an increase in bone density.[15]

The Best Food Sources of Prebiotics

Now that you know about the many health benefits prebiotics can offer, let’s take a look at some of the best food sources:

Beans Peas
Dandelion Greens Jerusalem Artichokes
Asparagus Leeks
Onions Garlic
Chicory Root/inulin Berries
Green Bananas Oats
Apples Konjac root/glucomannan
Unmodified potato starch (not potato flour) Cocoa
Flaxseed Yacon root
Burdock root Jicama root

For best results, these foods should be eaten raw and included with probiotic foods (lacto-fermented sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, yogurt) as part of your nutrient-dense ancestral diet. Be sure to start slowly with prebiotic-rich foods to avoid digestive discomfort.

ED NOTE: Kelley Herring is the co-founder of Wellness Bakeries, makers of grain-free, gluten-free, low-glycemic baking mixes for cakes, cookies, breads, pizza and much more.


[1] Brownawell AM1, Caers W, Gibson GR, Kendall CW, Lewis KD, Ringel Y, Slavin JL.

Prebiotics and the health benefits of fiber: current regulatory status, future research, and goals.J Nutr. 2012 May;142(5):962-74. doi: 10.3945/jn.112.158147. Epub 2012 Mar 28.

[2] Chrohn’s Disease. Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital

[3] de Vrese M1, Schrezenmeir J.Probiotics, prebiotics, and synbiotics.Adv Biochem Eng Biotechnol. 2008;111:1-66. doi: 10.1007/10_2008_097.

[4] Rivière A1, Selak M1, Lantin D1, Leroy F1, De Vuyst L1.

Bifidobacteria and Butyrate-Producing Colon Bacteria: Importance and Strategies for Their Stimulation in the Human Gut.Front Microbiol. 2016 Jun 28;7:979. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2016.00979. eCollection 2016.

[5] Zimmerman MA1, Singh N, Martin PM, Thangaraju M, Ganapathy V, Waller JL, Shi H, Robertson KD, Munn DH, Liu K.

Butyrate suppresses colonic inflammation through HDAC1-dependent Fas upregulation and Fas-mediated apoptosis of T cells.Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2012 Jun 15;302(12):G1405-15. doi: 10.1152/ajpgi.00543.2011. Epub 2012 Apr 19.

[6] Yoo JY1, Kim SS2.Probiotics and Prebiotics: Present Status and Future Perspectives on Metabolic Disorders.Nutrients. 2016 Mar 18;8(3):173. doi: 10.3390/nu8030173.

[7] Muñoz-Garach A1, Diaz-Perdigones C1, Tinahones FJ2.Gut microbiota and type 2 diabetes mellitus.Endocrinol Nutr. 2016 Dec;63(10):560-568. doi: 10.1016/j.endonu.2016.07.008. Epub 2016 Sep 12.

[8] Goulet O.

Potential role of the intestinal microbiota in programming health and disease.Nutr Rev. 2015 Aug;73 Suppl 1:32-40. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuv039.

[9] Roberfroid M1, Gibson GR, Hoyles L, McCartney AL, Rastall R, Rowland I, Wolvers D, Watzl B, Szajewska H, Stahl B, Guarner F, Respondek F, Whelan K, Coxam V, Davicco MJ, Léotoing L, Wittrant Y, Delzenne NM, Cani PD, Neyrinck AM, Meheust A.Prebiotic effects: metabolic and health benefits.Br J Nutr. 2010 Aug;104 Suppl 2:S1-63. doi: 10.1017/S0007114510003363.

[10] Clark MJ1, Robien K, Slavin JL.

Effect of prebiotics on biomarkers of colorectal cancer in humans: a systematic review.Nutr Rev. 2012 Aug;70(8):436-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2012.00495.

[11] Lay-Gaik Ooi and Min-Tze Liong*

Cholesterol-Lowering Effects of Probiotics and Prebiotics: A Review of in Vivo and in Vitro Findings. Int J Mol Sci. 2010; 11(6): 2499–2522.

[12] Dehghan P1, Farhangi MA2, Tavakoli F3, Aliasgarzadeh A4, Akbari AM5.Impact of prebiotic supplementation on T-cell subsets and their related cytokines, anthropometric features and blood pressure in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus: A randomized placebo-controlled Trial.Complement Ther Med. 2016 Feb;24:96-102. doi: 10.1016/j.ctim.2015.12.010. Epub 2015 Dec 28.

[13] Parnell JA, Reimer RA.

Prebiotic fibres dose-dependently increase satiety hormones and alter Bacteroidetes and Firmicutes in lean and obese JCR:LA-cp rats.Br J Nutr. 2012 Feb;107(4):601-13. doi: 10.1017/S0007114511003163. Epub 2011 Jul 18.

[14] Schmidt K, Cowen PJ, Harmer CJ, Tzortzis G, Errington S, Burnet PW.

Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers.Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 May;232(10):1793-801. doi: 10.1007/s00213-014-3810-0. Epub 2014 Dec 3.

[15]Collins S1, Reid G2,3.Distant Site Effects of Ingested Prebiotics.Nutrients. 2016 Aug 26;8(9). pii: E523. doi: 10.3390/nu8090523.