You’ve probably heard of probiotics - foods and supplements that contain friendly-bacteria - but you may not have heard of prebiotics.

Prebiotics are the ‘food’ that the good bacteria in your body needs to consume in order to thrive and stay healthy. Prebiotics may be as important as probiotics in supporting good digestion.

What are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are the non-digestible parts of food (such as the soluble fibres you find in onions) that provide no direct nutrition to people but nourish the friendly bacteria that live inside our guts. An example is fructooligosaccharides (FOS) - which sounds a bit of a mouthful - but refers to the carbohydrates in some fruits and vegetables. These non-digestible substances get fermented in the colon to feed the helpful bacteria that live there.

Foods that naturally contain prebiotics include soybeans, raw oats, Jerusalem artichoke, chicory root, onions and wheat. Prebiotics are also available as supplements in capsule or tablets or sometimes added to multivitamins.

Why do I need Prebiotics?

It’s believed that prebiotics help increase the numbers and function of good bacteria that we need for good digestion and to help our bodies absorb important minerals such as calcium (needed for strong bones).

Other benefits may include a reduced risk or symptoms of bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and colorectal cancer. Prebiotics may also benefit people with Type-2 diabetes and those at risk of traveller’s diarrhoea. At a recent meeting* of the American Chemical Society, experts were told that people who consume prebiotics improve the balance of good microbes (bacteria) in their guts.

Can Prebiotics be harmful?

Prebiotics are not thought to be harmful but they can cause short-term antisocial problems such as flatulence, an increase in bowel movements and bloating.