Stay Regular

Prebiotics and Probiotics Support Digestive Tract Health
By Christy Estes, RD, LD

Diarrhea or constipation? Are you somewhere in between? If not, you are probably like many Americans who are striving to find the balance called regularity. Regularity is defined as having a bowel movement (that's not too soft or too hard) three times a day to three times a week.1 If you are having persistent diarrhea or constipation, you should check with your doctor to try to determine the cause. Your doctor may suggest trying to include foods that contain prebiotics or probiotics to help improve regularity.

Pre Versus Pro: What's the Difference?
What are prebiotics and probiotics? We began a discussion of this topic in "Your Digestive System: A Powerful Source of Health." We learned that prebiotics help sustain the balance of potentially harmful and helpful bacteria in the microflora of your colon. They do so by stimulating the growth of helpful bacteria in your gut. While probiotics are live bacteria that, when consumed, have a helpful effect on body function, prebiotics are nondigestible carbohydrates that selectively promote the growth of these helpful bacteria, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacilli.

You are probably most familiar with probiotics due to their presence in yogurt and other dairy products. Exciting research continues, but it has been suggested that probiotics actually may help to provide relief from constipation.2 In addition, by adding probiotics to the diet, it may help to improve the microflora of the digestive tract, thereby helping to reduce diarrhea.3

Prebiotics help to maintain regularity by increasing the uptake of water and electrolytes, which can help reduce diarrhea.4,5 Prebiotics also can be classified as functional fiber, so they can contribute to your daily fiber needs of 25 to 30 grams. Some examples of prebiotics include short-chain fructooligosaccharides (scFOS), galactosaccharides (GOS), and inulin. One of these types of prebiotics, FOS, is found in Ensure Plus® in the form of NutraFlora®* scFOS®*.

Fiber Facts
We briefly touched on fiber when speaking about prebiotics, but we cannot discount the importance that fiber plays in regularity. There are two main classifications of fiber: dietary fiber and functional fiber. Dietary fiber serves as a bulking agent for your stool and helps it move through the digestive tract. Dietary fiber can be found naturally in plant foods such as lentils and vegetables. Functional fibers are also nondigestible carbohydrates that act like dietary fiber, but they can come from synthetic sources as well as natural sources. An example of a functional fiber is FOS. Food labels include dietary fibers and functional fibers as part of the total fiber.

You may notice that some food labels indicate that a food is a good source of fiber, or has more or added fiber, but do you know what those claims really mean? We have listed the definitions to help you choose the right food for you:6

  • High-fiber: 5 g or more per serving
  • Good source of fiber: at least 2.5 g per serving
  • More or added fiber: at least 2.5 g more per serving than the reference food (Label will say 10% more of the Daily Value for fiber.)
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1National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, (NDDIC), NIH.

2Wilson T, Temple NJ. Beverages in Nutrition & Health. Totowa, NJ, Humana Press, 2004.

3International Food Information Council, Functional Foods Fact Sheet: Probiotics and Prebiotics.

4Roberfroid MB, Van Loo JAE, Gibson GR: The bifidogenic nature of chicory inulin and its hydrolysis products. J Nutr 1998; 128:11-19.

5Bowling TE, Raimundo AH, Grimble GK, et al. Reversal by short-chain fatty acids of colonic fluid secretion induced by enteral feeding. Lancet 1993; 342:1266-1268.

6The New Food Label—Better Information for Special Diets.
 

*NutraFlora and scFOS are registered trademarks of GTC Nutrition.
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