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Definition of a Prebiotic

Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates that selectively promote the growth of the beneficial large intestinal bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, associated with health and well being [1,5].

Bacterial breakdown (fermentation) of prebiotics yields gases and short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), which feed bacteria themselves and colonic lining cells; some of SCFAs are absorbed and provide some energy (1-2 kcal/gram prebiotics) [5].

Foods high in prebiotics

Picture 1. Examples of foods high in prebiotics

Chart 1. List of Prebiotics and Food Examples

Inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS, oligofructose) Wheat, Jerusalem artichokes, chicory root, dandelion root, camas, onions, leeks bulb, murnong, yacon, burdock, garlic, salsify, burdock, jicama
Trans Galacto-oligosaccharides (TOS) (artificially produced from the milk lactose)
Lactulose (artificially produced from lactose) Added to certain energy bars, beverages, yogurts
Resistant starches Cooked and cooled potatoes, pasta or rice; unripe (green) banana, sorghum, modified starches

Chart 1 sources: [1,5,9,10,11,12,13]

Other Suggested but Not Yet Proven Prebiotics

Prebiotic Supplements

Prebiotic supplements currently on the market usually contain inulin or fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS).

Possible Prebiotic Health Benefits

What has been proven so far is that prebiotics selectively promote the growth of beneficial intestinal bacteria. This could help prevent the growth of the harmful bacteria, prevent or treat intestinal infections, diarrhea in infants [2], allergy (eczema) in infants [3], necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants [4], irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) [6], inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis), improve immunity, prevent colorectal cancer [7], increase satiety and reduce blood glucose spikes after meals [8], reduce blood cholesterol [11], help in weight loss, increase the absorption of calcium, magnesium and iron and prevent constipation, but non of these effects have been firmly proven, yet [5].

Side Effects

Prebiotics, especially inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), consumed in high amounts can cause abdominal bloating, excessive gas (flatulence), loose stools or diarrhea [5].

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

Prebiotics are nutrients that promote the growth of the beneficial intestinal bacteria, while probiotics are the actual bacteria or yeasts added to “probiotic foods.”

Related Nutrients

  1. Roberfroid, M., 2007, Prebiotics: the concept revisited  The Journal of Nutrition
  2. Duggan, C. et al, 2003, Oligofructose-supplemented infant cereal: 2 randomized, blinded, community-based trials in Peruvian infants  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
  3. Osborn, DA et al, 2013, Cochrane Neonatal Reviews: Prebiotics in infants for prevention of allergy Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
  4. Patel, RM et al, 2013, Therapeutic Use of Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Postbiotics to Prevent Necrotizing Enterocolitis: What is the Current Evidence?  PubMed Central
  5. Slavin, J., 2013, Fiber and Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits  PubMed Central
  6. Ford, CA et al, 2014, Efficacy of Prebiotics, Probiotics, and Synbiotics in Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chronic Idiopathic Constipation: Systematic Review and Meta-analysis  PubMed
  7. Clark, MJ et al, 2012, Effect of prebiotics on biomarkers of colorectal cancer in humans: a systematic review  PubMed
  8. Kellow, NJ et al, 2012, Metabolic benefits of dietary prebiotics in human subjects: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials.  PubMed
  9. Chatterjee, A. et al, 2011, Prebiotics in periodontal health and disease  PubMed Central
  10. Steinbüchel, A., 2004, p 445  Biopolymers
  11. Davidson, MH et al, 1999, Effects of Dietary Inulin on Serum Lipids  The Journal of Nutrition
  12. lles, MS et al, 1999, Effect of transgalactooligosaccharides on the composition of the human intestinal microflora and on putative risk markers for colon cancer  The American Journal of Nutrition
  13. Sajilata, MG et al, 2006, Resistant starch ─ a review  Wiley Online Library

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