Prebiotic fiber in things like raw garlic and artichokes provides food for the good gut bacteria, with benefits ranging from improved sleep to reduced risk of cancer.
One of the more recent darlings of the health world has been probiotics, the beneficial bacteria found in items like yogurt and fermented foods that help promote good gut health. Benefits of probiotics range from better digestive health, improved immunity to anti-inflammatory effects and more. But hey, probiotics need to eat too – and they love to dine on prebiotics.
Prebiotics are dietary fibers found naturally in foods. When good bacteria digest prebiotic fiber, they not only multiply, improving overall gut health, but they also release metabolic byproducts, notes a new study from the University of Colorado Boulder (UCB). Prebiotics make probiotics happy, and happy probiotics make for a happier lot of things.
All prebiotics are fiber, but not all fiber is prebiotic. Classification of an item as a prebiotic, according to the National Institutes of Health, requires scientific demonstration that the ingredient: "Resists gastric acidity, hydrolysis by mammalian enzymes, and absorption in the upper gastrointestinal tract; Is fermented by the intestinal microflora; Selectively stimulates the growth and/or activity of intestinal bacteria potentially associated with health and well-being."
Briefly, here are some of the things that a diet high in prebiotic foods has been linked to:
1. Improved sleep
The new study from UCB suggests that dietary prebiotics improve sleep."We found that dietary prebiotics can improve non-REM sleep, as well as REM sleep after a stressful event," said Robert Thompson, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Integrative Physiology.
2. Better brain and psychological health
"Given that sufficient NREM [non-REM] sleep and proper nutrition can impact brain development and function and that sleep problems are common in early life, it is possible that a diet rich in prebiotics started in early life could help improve sleep, support the gut microbiota and promote optimal brain/psychological health," notes the UCB study.
3. Decreased physiological impacts from stress.
The UCB study authors also note that the boost in REM leads to lesser impacts from stress; research shows that those who get more REM sleep post-trauma are less likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
4. Reduced risk of developing colorectal cancer
Prebiotics may prevent colorectal cancer development in humans by modifying the composition or activity of the colorectal microflora, notes a review of nine studies by Department of Food Science and Nutrition, University of Minnesota.
5. Increased calcium absorption
Daily consumption of a combination of prebiotics significantly increases calcium absorption and enhances bone mineralization for kids during puberty, found one study. The same was found for young adults up to age 27 in another study, while more research shows it in other age groups as well.
6. Increased satiety after meals
And last but not least, research suggests that consuming prebiotics may promote satiety and weight loss and prevent obesity.
And best of all, prebiotics are delicious. Food sources high in prebiotic fiber include asparagus, bananas, artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, jicama, dandelion greens, chicory, whole grains, raw garlic, leeks and onions, to name just a few.