Should you take prebiotics as supplements or is it better to eat prebiotic foods?
What do prebiotic supplements contain?
What are the best prebiotic supplements?
Find out how to choose a prebiotic supplement.
What are prebiotics & why should I take them?
Prebiotics are food for the helpful strains of bacteria in your gut.
They are the non digestible fibres (fibers) found in certain plant foods (such as fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes) that have been found to encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in our guts.
For example, prebiotic supplements based on Galacto – Oligosaccharides (similar to those found in breast milk) have been found to boost bifidobacteria in the gut.
You can take Prebiotics as supplements (in tablets or as powders sprinkled on food), as well as eating them in plant foods.
What do prebiotic supplements contain?
All prebiotic fibres (fibers) are complex carbohydrates.
They are made up of different length chains of various kinds of sugar molecules (for example fructose & lactose).
You’ll find different types of prebiotic fibre available as supplements.
Here are the main kinds of prebiotics found in dietary supplements:-
GOS, or Galacto-oligosaccharide
is a prebiotic found in human breast milk, made up of chains of galactose (a type of sugar) that vary in length.
Galactooligosaccharide found in prebiotic supplements, is made in laboratories, generally from cow’s milk.
Studies show that it encourages the growth of bifidobacteria.
GOS is contained in many supplements, including Bimuno.
FOS, or Fructo-oligosaccharide
is a prebiotic made up of fructose sugars.
FOS is found in fruits, vegetables & plants
– such as : bananas, onions, chicory root, leeks, garlic & asparagus as well as barley & wheat grains.
The fructooligosaccharide in prebiotic supplements is likely to have been made in laboratories.
is another type of prebiotic fibre, made of chains of fructose sugars
The fructose molecules in Inulin are in longer chains than FOS
Found in endives, onions, leeks and jerusalem artichokes and other fruit & vegetables.
Inulin can be extracted from endives (and other vegetables), and purified into a powder, to be taken as a supplement.
New prebiotic fibres are being discovered, as scientists research which food types help our helpful bacteria to thrive.
So in the future, you’ll find a wider range of prebiotic fibres available to take as prebiotic supplements
Which is the best way to take prebiotics : supplements or food?
You can boost your overall intake of prebiotics by combining the prebiotics in the food you eat, with prebiotic supplements.
Different types of bacteria live in different parts of our guts and prefer different types of food.
So, different prebiotic supplements will nourish & encourage different strains of bacteria to grow.
Taking a supplement that contains several types of prebiotic fibre, can encourage a wider range of helpful bacteria to multiply.
You can encourage the widest range of helpful bacteria to thrive in your gut microbiome, by ensuring your diet contains :-
– a variety of plant based foods (fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, beans / legumes)
– along with any supplements you choose to take
How to choose a Prebiotic Supplement
Look for supplements that contain different types of prebiotic fibres to feed different groups of beneficial bacteria.
Buy supplements from large, well reputed companies.
Visit the website of the prebiotic supplement manufacturer, to check :-
– their manufacturing standards
– what studies have been done to back up any claims they make
– that their products are suitable for you (some are not suitable for vegans)
– what type of prebiotic fibres the supplement contains
Some supplements combine several types of prebiotic fibre, to encourage a wider range of helpful bacteria to grow.
Taking Prebiotic Supplements
If you choose to take supplements, consider taking several types of prebiotic, along with a varied high fibre diet with plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and wholegrains.
Choose a variety of food for different types of bacteria, as you’ll help encourage as wide a mix of healthy bacteria as possible to thrive in your gut.
Bear in mind that the effect of prebiotics can vary, as we all have a different blend of bacteria in our guts. So the effects of prebiotics will vary from person to person.
Read the instructions carefully on how to take the supplements you have chosen:-
– Some prebiotic supplements are sachets to be dissolved in drinks, sprinkled on food, others are pastilles or tablets.
– Some prebiotic supplements suggest starting on a low dose, increasing the amount you take over a few weeks.
You should talk to your doctor before taking prebiotic supplements if you suffer from IBS or any other gastric disorder
Introduce prebiotics to your diet slowly as at first they can cause some flatulence (wind) as your body (and gut bacteria) adapt to the increased fibre intake.
Research on prebiotics is at an early stage, but they are considered safe to take.
However, prebiotics are not well regulated, as they fall in a grey area between food supplements & medicines and the claims that some supplements make have been contested.
The Science Bit
The information I share on this site distills the research I’ve read on the microbiome, prebiotics & probiotics.
You’ll find links to the relevant research studies on each page.
I’m not a scientist / dietician / nutritionist. I’m a food lover & home cook, putting microbiome research findings into action in my kitchen.
Find out more about the scientists leading research into the microbiome on the FAQs page
Keep Reading : What Are Probiotics?