So what exactly are prebiotics, and does your body need them?

In a world of convenience foods and sedentary jobs, we constantly work to make sure we live healthy lives. We all dream of the magic diet and exercise formula that promises health, great skin, energy, and longevity. But now, scientists recommend we also use prebiotics to help us sleep and manage stress.

But what exactly is a prebiotic?

According to Science Daily, prebiotics are non-digestible fibers found in many plant sources, like oatmeal, onions, asparagus, legumes, and artichokes. Certain bacteria feed on these non-digestible fibers, and those bacteria can be good for our overall health.

But prebiotics should not be confused with probiotics, the good bacteria found in fermented foods.

Prebiotics and probiotics work together to promote a healthy gut. Prebiotics stimulate the activity and growth of beneficial microorganisms in the gut, a.k.a. probiotics. So the two work together to make a healthy gut. And while both are great for your health, prebiotic foods have some very specific benefits that we didn’t even realize.

Prebiotics help us sleep better and manage our stressful lives.

We all know we could use something to help us deal with our busy, fast-paced culture. According to a study from the University of Colorado Boulder, adding prebiotics to your diet can help aid in sleep, including sleep after a stressful incident. In the study, rats were given either regular food or food that included prebiotics. The rats that ingested prebiotics got more non-rapid-eye-movement (NREM) sleep, a very restorative kind of sleep, than the group without the supplement.

The authors of the study wrote, “Given that sufficient NREM sleep and proper nutrition can impact brain development and function and that sleep problems are common in early life, it is possible that a diet rich in prebiotics started in early life could help improve sleep, support the gut microbiota and promote optimal brain/psychological health.

In the same study, scientists found that after the rats had been exposed to a stressor, the ones that ate the prebiotic-containing food spent more time in REM sleep, which is the type of sleep critical to recovering from stress. Basically, these powerful compounds help your body get the sleep it needs, which can, in turn, help you recover from stress.

Prebiotics also help lessen the risks of obesity.

According to “Prebiotics in Obesity,” an article published in Panminerva Medica, now that humanity eats more processed food, we aren’t getting as many prebiotic-heavy foods in our diet. In a similar time period, obesity rates have skyrocketed. So scientists have been looking into the relationship between those two things.

Turns out, prebiotics seem to improve satiety and improve insulin sensitivity, although scientists are still studying exactly why. Studies suggest that they help to create a good environment in our gut that makes us feel more satisfied with our food. And less likely to go for seconds.

Scientists haven’t quite pinpointed the exact mechanics of how prebiotic foods affect obesity, because the body is such a complicated equation. But they have found these very positive-sounding correlations between these beneficial fibers and a lower obesity rate. So that means adding prebiotic-containing foods to our regular diet can possibly help us manage our weight.

So how do we get more prebiotics in our diet?

Eat more plant-based foods. It’s a simple rule that you’ll find at the core of tons of healthy eating plans. Limiting your processed foods and focusing on foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.

We all love our processed food occasionally. But plant-based foods should be the core of our diets. We need all those delicious veggies and grains to help us get those beneficial prebiotics.