As we know, millions of bacteria inhabit our intestines. These bacteria are, or should be, in balance with our bodies as they help maintain good health, improve our immune system and help us digest and absorb nutrients such as vitamins. This collection of microorganisms forms our intestinal flora. In order to maintain a good balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria we can help our bodies by taking prebiotic foods.
The difference between prebiotics and probiotics
Probiotics are living microorganisms which when ingested in the correct quantities can provide significant benefits.
On the other hand, prebiotics are non-digestible fibre substances, which benefit our bodies by stimulating growth in the microorganisms that inhabit our colon, thus improving our health. The literal definition of prebiotics is “promoter of life”. Moreover, they also have the capacity to inhibit the growth of a number of pathogenic bacteria, which in turn helps promote the growth of “good” bacteria. A prebiotic food increases the effect of probiotics as they complement each other.
Prebiotic foods are generally non-digestible carbohydrates, such as fructooligosacharides (FOS), galactooligosacharides (GOS) y and inulin (these can be found in fruit and vegetables). These prebiotic foods stimulate the growth and activity of the bacteria that are beneficial for our Intestinal flora, mainly bifidobacteria and lactobacillus.
In our normal diet, we can include foods that are rich in prebiotics, such as:
- Bean sprouts
- Pulses (rich in raffinose and stachiose)
- Whole cereals, wheat derivatives, oatmeal and barley
- Soybean (rich in GOS)
All of these foods are rich in inulin and/or fructooligosacharides (natural prebiotics). If these foods are included in your diet along with probiotics, their effect will obviously be greater and thus, so will the benefits to your health. Moreover, all of these foods provide quality vitamins, minerals and nutrients that will enrich your diet in a simple and efficient way.
If you want to increase the effects of taking prebiotics apart from combining them with probiotics, you can also take turmeric and psyllium (a dietary fibre).
For a substance to be considered a prebiotic, it has to fulfil certain criteria.:
- It must be resistant to stomach acids, digestive enzymes and absorption in the upper part of the digestive tract.
- It must be fermented in the intestinal tract by the bacteria that inhabit it.
- It must be capable of selectively stimulating the bacteria which offer benefits to our health, in this way helping to improve the general balance of the bacteria that make up our intestinal flora.
The optimum dose of FOS to obtain the maximum benefit from its various properties: for children (1 – 10 years of age) 2.500 mg in the initial phase and 5.000 mg in the following phases, and for adults (20 years of age and over) 5.000 mg, before later continuing with 10.000 mg.
Benefits of prebioticsios
- They feed the beneficial intestinal flora, encouraging their growth, especially the bifidobacteria.
- They help with bacterial fermentation processes that induce the production of short chain fatty acids.
- They regulate digestive and absorption of nutrient functions.
- They create certain vitamins that our body needs, but is not capable of synthesizing itself.
- They reduce intestinal pH (which inhibits the growth of pathogenic bacteria such as E. Coli, Shigella o Salmonella).
- As they reduce the proliferation of a number of pathogenic microorganisms, they favour the reduction in bacterial synthesis of toxic substances.
- They regulate intestinal transit, avoiding constipation.
- They provide protection against the evolution of tumour cells.
- They help strengthen the immune system.
- As the keep the intestinal walls moist, they act as a light laxative (helping ensure that the faecal mass is of the right quantity and moistness) as well as helping intestinal peristalsis.
Having said all this, it is important to remember that insufficient consumption of prebiotics may cause digestive problems such as gas, diarrhoea, proliferation of pathogenic bacteria, constipation, abdominal swelling, skin problems such as acné, eczema and psoriasis, as well as even colon cancer.
Prebiotics are extremely substances for good health, and as such should always be included in our diet. Start today and feel the benefits.
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