Prebiotics are a very specific type of food. While many of the food ingredients we consume are digested immediately, prebiotics are a healthy non-digestible food ingredient. Futhermore, prebiotics are heat resistant, which keep them intact during the baking process and allow them to be incorporated into every day food choices. By consuming a non-digestible ingredient, it allows for growth of bio-cultures by reaching the intestine unaffected by the digestion process. This can provide good digestive health. The positive effects prebiotics have by reaching the intestine in an unaltered form is known as the prebiotic effect.
A prebiotic effect occurs when there is an increase in the activity of healthy bacteria in the human intestine. The prebiotics stimulate the growth of healthy bacteria such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the gut and increase resistance to invading pathogens. This effect is induced by consuming functional foods that contain prebiotics. These foods induces metabolic activity, leading to health improvements. Healthy bacteria in the intestine can combat unwanted bacteria, providing a number of health benefits.
Difference Between Prebiotics and Probiotics
Prebiotics are a dietary fibre that trigger the growth of bacteria having favourable effects on the intestinal flora. Probiotics, however, are live micro-organisms contained in the food we eat. They remain intact throughout the digestive process, and deliver healthy bacteria directly to the large intestine. Since probiotics do not stimulate metabolic activity they provide a different set of benefits than prebiotics. Both sets of benefits are valuable for our health wellness, and can act symbiotically to provide numerous health benefits. In fact, the benefits of consuming both prebiotics and probiotics are so strong that synbiotic products (products in which both a probiotic and a prebiotic are combined) are being developed as functional foods.
Source of Prebiotics
The most common type of prebiotic is from the soluble dietary fibre inulin. Inulin is common in many plants containing fructan. Furthermore, many of these plants are frequently eaten as vegetables - asparagus, garlic, leek, onion, artichoke – and are an excellent source of inulin. However, as the need for functional foods rises, prebiotics are being added to many every day food choices such as cereals, biscuits, breads, table spreads, drinks, and yoghurts.
Adding Prebiotics to Every Day Food Choices
If all consumers met their dietary requirements, and ate 5-8 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, then their dietary fibre needs would be met. However, the vast majority of the population do not meet these requirements by consuming fruits and vegetables alone. Functional foods increase consumer choice by adding prebiotics to every day food items. By continuing to eat and drink common foods, but choosing functional alternatives (i.e. Bread containing prebiotics) dietary requirements can be met, without significant changes to food preferences.