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Alyssa Simpson RD, CDE, CLT
Alyssa Simpson

RD, CDE, CLT​

What Are Prebiotics and Will They Improve My IBS Symptoms?

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IBS Symptoms

If you’ve been following along lately, you’ve learned a lot about probiotics.

Probiotics can:

✅ Help fortify your beneficial gut bacteria

✅ Strengthen your immune system

✅ Improve your digestion

✅ Balance out your moods

✅ Improve IBS symptoms

Your gut bacteria takes care of you. But how can you take care of your gut bacteria?

Protect Your Gut Bacteria

Your gut bacteria, or microbiome, is actually fairly fragile. These are microorganisms after all.

Anything that is designed to “kill germs” is a threat to your microbiome. The biggest issue for most people is antibiotic use. I’m not saying you should never use antibiotics. Sometimes they are absolutely warranted. But, when you’re considering taking a course of these drugs, make sure you weigh the risks along with the benefits.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are intended to kill the bad bacteria that is making you sick. But, these medications cannot differentiate between the bad bacteria and the beneficial bacteria. So when you take antibiotics, some of your beneficial bacteria will die off as well.

Antibacterial and Disinfecting Products

Be careful with disinfecting and antibacterial products. Over the past couple of years, hand sanitizer, sanitizing wipes, and disinfecting cleaners have become a regular part of most of our lives. And yes, they can protect you from viruses and bacteria that may harm you. But they can also damage your delicate microbiome.

I know you aren’t eating these products — or at least I hope you’re not! But when you put them on your hands and then eat, you are likely to ingest some unintentionally.

And remember, beneficial bacteria isn’t found only in our gut. We also have bacteria on our skin. And when you use antibacterial products, you’re killing that good bacteria as well.

Feed Your Gut Bacteria

Just like a healthy diet helps you feel your best, your gut bacteria need healthy food as well.

As a general rule, whole and natural foods are best for your gut microbiome. Foods that are highly processed or high in sugar are not any better for your microbiome than they are for you.

But, there are specific foods you can eat that will feed your gut bacteria.

Prebiotics

Prebiotics are not bacteria. And eating them or taking a prebiotic supplement will not add more healthy bacteria to your gut. But that doesn’t mean consuming prebiotics won’t help with the health of your microbiome.

Prebiotics are indigestible carbohydrates — often dietary fibers — that feed your friendly gut bacteria. So they do play a role in balancing your microbiome and improving common digestive symptoms like those experienced by IBS patients.

You can find prebiotics in a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, roots, and tubers.

Food sources of prebiotics include:

Fruits

Apples

Bananas

Berries

Vegetables

Artichokes

Asparagus

Garlic

Green vegetables

Leeks

Legumes (peas and beans)

Onions

Tomatoes

Soybeans

Grains

Barley

Oats

Wheat

If you have IBS, your alarm bells may be going off about now because that looks like a list of foods you CAN’T eat. If you’re on a therapeutic diet like the low FODMAP diet, there are many foods on that list of prebiotics that may not be a part of your diet. Many of these foods contain fructans and galacto-oligosaccharides — which are the ‘O’ in FODMAP. So if you’re in the midst of your low FODMAP diet, these foods are likely not a good fit for you.

If I’m on a Low FODMAP Diet, how do I get my prebiotics?

First off, make sure you’re working with a qualified practitioner as you incorporate the low FODMAP diet. This diet is safe when it’s done correctly. But it is not meant to be a long-term solution to your IBS symptoms.

These prebiotic foods are an important part of overall health. And while it’s fine to go without them for a while during the elimination phase, it’s important to add them back in.

You may not ever be able to eat all of them, or eat them in large quantities. But your practitioner will work with you to figure out the right prebiotic foods to add back in, how much of them to eat, and when your body is ready for them.

There are some low FODMAP prebiotic foods though. If you tolerate them well, you can add these prebiotic foods to your diet:

Low FODMAP prebiotic veggies include:

✔ Cabbage

✔ Fennel

✔ Eggplant

✔ Butternut squash

Low FODMAP prebiotic legumes include:

✔ Lentils

✔ Chickpeas

Low FODMAP prebiotic fruits include:

✔ Kiwi

✔ Green-tipped banana

✔ Pomegranate

✔ Grapefruit

Low FODMAP Prebiotic grains include:

✔ Buckwheat flour

✔ Oats

Low FODMAP prebiotic nuts:

✔ Almonds

Low FODMAP-Friendly Prebiotic Supplements

There is a way to include prebiotics in your diet even if you don’t react well to prebiotic foods. And that’s through supplementation. But be careful about which ones you choose. Make sure to avoid supplements containing FOS, GOS, MOS, inulin, & arabinogalactan as a main ingredient. If they are listed as “other ingredients”, it may still work for you.

As a functional nutritionist, I am always looking to find the delicate balance of including foods that help my patients heal, while eliminating or cutting back on foods that exacerbate their symptoms.

And one of my favorite ways to include prebiotics in an IBS protocol is with guar gum. Derived from the guar bean, partially hydrolyzed guar gum is a prebiotic that’s both helpful and generally well-tolerated by IBS patients.

Guar gum is often used as a food additive because it’s able to absorb water and forms a gel that can thicken and bind processed food products.

As a supplement, it has been shown to relieve constipation, improve stool texture, and help with bowel movement frequency. This is great news for people struggling with IBS-C.

But guar gum supplementation isn’t only good for IBS patients who suffer from constipation. It’s also helpful for IBS-D (diarrhea-predominant IBS).

Another study showed that guar gum helped patients with:

✓ Bowel movement frequency

✓ Bloating

Incomplete bowel movements

If you’d like to check out my favorite guar gum supplement, click here.

If you’ve got IBS — or suspect you do — you know things can get complicated. I’ve had so many patients show up in my practice who have become scared to eat. They limit themselves to just a handful of foods that don’t cause problems.

But that is not a long-term solution. Your body needs a variety of nutrients to stay healthy and balanced.

It is totally possible to deal with even the most horrible IBS symptoms and still be able to actually eat. No, I don’t mean eat whatever you want. I mean eat good food that will fuel your body without throwing you into a digestive emergency.

I put together a resource packet for people with IBS. This includes some of my favorite tools I use with patients in my practice. You can access The IBS Resource Guide here.

But the best way to deal with your IBS symptoms is to work with an experienced practitioner who can look at your unique symptoms, food sensitivities, and lifestyle to create a protocol that works for you.

If you’re ready to take that step, I’m here for you!

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