A guide to Prebiotics - the new baby superfood

A balance of probiotics and prebiotics contribute to a healthy 'gut microbiome'.
A balance of probiotics and prebiotics contribute to a healthy 'gut microbiome'. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

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As we learn more about how gut health can impact our overall wellbeing, products promoting probiotics and prebiotics are becoming increasingly attractive.

Did you know that recent scientific studies have shown that a healthy gut microbiome is associated with reduced chronic disease risk and allergies? Similarly, mounting scientific evidence highlights the importance of healthy gut microbiome in babies and toddlers.

But, how do prebiotics and probiotics work and what are the benefits?

Your 'gut microbiome' is made up of the trillions of microorganisms and their genetic material that live in your intestinal tract.

We know that probiotics, often described as 'friendly' or 'good' bacteria, live in our intestinal tract. From birth, these microorganisms in the gut play an important role in digestion and the metabolism of food, even affecting behaviour, cognitive function and mood.

Currently we are hearing more and more discussion around the dietary trend for prebiotics, so what are they? Prebiotics come from types of carbs (mostly fibre) that humans can't digest. They provide food for those friendly probiotics which enables them to grow, survive and discourage the growth of harmful organisms

A balance of probiotics and prebiotics contribute to a healthy 'gut microbiome'. With 70 to 80 per cent of the body's immune cells in the gut, a healthy microbiome is important for developing the immune system. An unhealthy microbiome is associated with reduced immune function and gut disturbance.

Paediatric dietitian and mother of twin 2 ½ year olds, Susie Burrell, knows that a healthy microbiome is shaped early in life. "Unique as a fingerprint, our gut microbiomes are established in utero and infanthood," she says, adding that babies are born with a sterile gut with bacteria introduced from birth onwards.. "As we grow, factors such as genetics, environment and diet can change this balance of bacteria'.

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"Babies can get prebiotics via breast milk, or fortified formula and toddler milk," says Burrell. "As they get older, prebiotics can be included in their daily diet via fresh fruits and vegetables and, where possible, fermented vegetables."

Emerging research has shown that supplementing a diet with prebiotics such as Galacto-oligosacharides (GOS) can help promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. According to Burrell, these benefits are critical early in life.

"When introduced into the diet of infants, studies have shown that GOS improves digestive and immune health by stimulating levels of Bifidobacteria, an important and beneficial gut bacteria," she says.

A baby's GOS levels are dependent on diet. GOS can be found in foods such as lentils, chickpeas, green peas, lima beans and kidney beans. But, Burrell says, 'whilst these foods are common to adult diets, they can be less palatable to infants, particularly as they commence solid foods'.

For fussier infants, there are some supplementary products available, and Burrell says that slipping them into juices and smoothies always works well. But one of her top recommendations for infants is organic baby rice.

"[It] not only has a good level of iron and vitamin C, it contains GOS prebiotic," she says. "It's perfect as a baby's first food, and a great new way to help nourish and develop their gut microbiome from 4+ months of age."

With so many benefits on offer and evidence to back this up, it's time to incorporate prebiotics, to support those probiotics, into your family's diet today.

Founded by an Australian mother, Bellamy's Organic provides certified organic Australian made formula and baby food for the precious first years. Our team of experts are dedicated and passionate about creating high quality, nutritionally balanced and delicious food. Click here to explore our great new range of certified organic food, including our new kids custards with no added sugar and our famous baby rice, now with prebiotic.

With Bellamy's Organic, you can be confident that you are giving your little ones a pure start to life.