When you see a blog telling you to eat oligosaccharides, you probably wonder what the heck that is. Your second thought is perhaps that it sounds close to “saccharine” and therefore is something to avoid. And while oligosaccharides are made of sugar. You should eat more of them.
We all want to improve our immune systems in the fall and winter. There are so many bugs floating around. You hear the sniffing and sneezing every time you go to the supermarket! Most of us reach for the citrus, knowing that vitamin C can help us, but there are many other foods to help yourself. Oligosaccharides can be a perfect food to help you stay healthy. They are a form of fiber made of 10 linked simple sugars that the body has a hard time breaking down. They ferment in the gut and improve gut health.
One way to boost your immune system is to pump up your microbiome. A lot of people think that you should eat probiotic food to increase the number of good bacteria that live in your gut. That’s an excellent choice if you have been ill or recently done something that upset your gut health. But most of us have enough beneficial bacteria and viruses in our gut. They just need to be nurtured. Prebiotics are the food for probiotics. And, unless you have an unhealthy gut, a diet high in prebiotic food is usually the best way to bolster gut health.
As oligosaccharides are hard to break down, they ferment in the gut and help feed microflorae that create short-chain fatty acids and some B vitamins. They may also improve how the body absorbs calcium, magnesium and other minerals. They also improve the health of the membranes in the lungs and skin, which can prevent infections. They can also improve your body’s response to vaccines. Some studies have also shown that they may improve memory, upper respiratory health and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.
As they ferment in the intestines, like other fiber, oligosaccharides can cause some gastrointestinal problems. They can cause bloating, cramps, gas or diarrhea. That usually only happens if you go from eating no fiber to an abundance of fiber very quickly. So start adding more oligosaccharides to your diet gradually.
You are already eating some oligosaccharide-rich foods without realizing it. But you could be eating more. Inulin, a type of oligosaccharide, is added to many products. We even wrote about how it’s added to things like “healthy” soda. It’s added to many foods in the place of fat or sugar to make them have the right texture.
In addition to eating foods with added oligosaccharides, many naturally contain the fiber. Vegetables including broccoli, green and red cabbage, garlic, Jerusalem artichoke, kale, leek, white onions and scallions have oligosaccharides. Legumes like beans, lentils and peas are a good source. Wheat and rye contain the fiber. And fruits like bananas, blueberries, cantaloupes, sour cherries, red currants, figs, mulberries, nectarines, pears, raspberries and watermelons are naturally rich in oligosaccharides.
As you can see, there are a lot of ways to fit more of this fiber into your diet. By eating more oligosaccharide-rich foods, you could help your gut and have a healthier winter!