Wellness Friday with MAKwellness

Carbohydrates 101:  Oligosaccharides, Prebiotics, and Colon Health, Part Three
in MAKwellness
By:  Maria Kasdagly


What we eat affects how we feel. How food moves through our digestive tract and the secretions it produces are affected by the protein, carbohydrate and fat composition of our foods. Did you know that 70 percent of the cells that make up the body’s immune system are found in the wall of the gut?   So, what we eat also may affect the body’s immune response.

Gut Microbiota

The human intestines carries about 100 trillion microorganisms; that is ten times greater than the total number of cells in the human body.  There are over 500 bacterial species in the human gut and they account for over 90% of the cellular complex in the entire human body.  Bacterial cells in the gut can be; beneficial, neutral or harmful.  Focusing on the beneficial bacteria, the microorganisms perform a host of useful functions, such as fermenting unused energy substrates, training the immune system, helps control food allergies, lowers cholesterol, cancer prevention, regulates healthy development of the gut, and produces vitamins for the body, such as biotin and vitamin K.


As discussed in part one, carbohydrates with 3-10 monosaccharides fall into the oligosaccharide category.  The three main types are raffinose, stachyose, and verbacose, which can be found  in onions, garlic, leeks, beans, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, other vegetables, and whole grains. Plants with large amounts of oligosaccharides include chicory root, from which most commercial inulin is extracted.  It is estimated that North Americans get about 1-3 grams naturally in their diets each day, while Europeans get 3-10 grams.

Recently, a lot of attention regarding oligosaccharides is on it’s health-promoting substrates.  Many oligosaccharides are resistant to digestion and absorption by human enzymes and, therefore, reach the large bowel where they function as a prebiotic.

I have heard of Probiotics, but what are Prebiotics?

Prebiotics are non-digestible food components that support growth of certain kinds of bacteria in the colon (large intestines).  Simply put, prebiotics feed our probiotics (bacteria), so that the good bacteria can fight off the bad bacteria.  Health benefits include alleviation of constipation, reduced risk of infection and diarrhea, and improved immune response.  They were first identified and named by Marcel Roberfroid in 1995.

Roberfroid offered a refined definition in the March 2007 Journal of Nutrition stating:

A prebiotic is a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microflora that confers benefits upon host well-being and health

Oligosaccharides and My Diet

You can find oligosaccharides in the following list (as well as the vegetables listed above and whole-grains):

  • Wheat
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Yams
  • Chicory root
  • Artichoke (the root type, not the spiky globe)
  • Agave
  • Jicama
  • Bananas
  • Dandelion greens

In addition to the list provided above, food additives are also a good source of oligosaccharides.  Inulin and oligofructose are the most common food additives, commonly found in kefir and yogurts.

A Happy Colon is a Healthy Colon!


  1. Björkstén, Bengt; Sepp, Epp; Julge, Kaja; Voor, Tiia; Mikelsaar, Marika (2001). “Allergy development and the intestinal microflora during the first year of life”. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 108 (4): 516–20.
  2. Kolida, S., Tuohy, K. and Gibson, G.R. (2000). “The human gut flora in nutrition and approaches for its dietary modulation.” British Nutrition Foundation Nutrition Bulletin. 25: 223-231.
  3. Sauliner, D.M, Raffer, J., Rijkers, G.T., Watzl, B. and Antoine, J.M. (2010). “Guidance for substantiating the evidence for beneficial effects of probiotics: impact of probiotics on digestive system metabolism. Journal of nutrition.  140: 677S-689S.
  4. Boler, B.M.V. and Fahey Jr., G.C. (2012). “Prebiotics of Plant and Microbial Origin.”  Direct-Fed Microbials and Prebiotics for Animals: Science and Mechanisms of Action. 2: 13.


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