Prebiotics are a type of non-digestible carbohydrate found in certain foods, which promote the growth and activity of good bacteria in the gut, explain Alex Parker and Anna Debenham, dietitians at The Biting Truth.
"Because they are able to pass through the stomach and small intestines undigested, they arrive relatively unchanged in the large bowel. Here they become food for the good bacteria living there," says Alex.
Probiotics and prebiotics have a symbiotic relationship, in that when consumed together, they interact in a beneficial way.
Fermented dairy products like yoghurt and kefir for example, are considered beneficial for gut health as they contain both the live bacteria, and the fuel they need to thrive, in the one food.
What are the benefits of prebiotics?
Gut health is linked to our general wellbeing. Alex says an imbalance of gut bacteria may lead to toxic by-products and inflammation in the gut that can negatively impact wellbeing.
Conversely, she says nurturing more beneficial bacteria in your gut can improve the absorption of vitamins, support the guts natural immune defences and help support digestive balance
"Increasing intake of prebiotics can increase bowel frequency, and provide digestive balance by providing fuel for the beneficial bacteria in the body,” says Anna.
How to include prebiotics in your diet
The good news is, it is relatively simple to incorporate prebiotic foods into your diet.
Alex says prebiotic compounds are found in plant products, including bananas, watermelon, nectarines, white peaches, and onion, garlic, leek, asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, snow pea and green peas.
They are also plentiful in wholegrain foods, for example, oats, couscous, pasta, rye bread and barley; legumes including chickpeas, red kidney beans, lentils and nuts and seeds.
"Where possible, eating these foods raw will allow you to get the most prebiotics out of them. Avoid juices where you might lose some of the fibre, which contains the prebiotics," says Alex.