Why prebiotics could be key to fighting obesity

CALGARY- It’s a fine white powder that could prove to be a useful weapon in the battle against childhood obesity.

“We know that approximately a third of Canadian children today are at an unhealthy body weight, and that rate continues to increase,” explains Dr. Raylene Reimer, a researcher with the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

For the last 13 years, the biochemist has been studying how food and nutrition can be used to combat obesity. Recently, her attention has been focused on something called prebiotic fibre.

“It’s a type of fibre that feeds the bacteria that are in your intestines, and we know that this type of bacteria actually correlates with whether or not you are overweight or a lean or normal weight.”

Prebiotics differ from the probiotic cultures that have become popular on store shelves. Products labelled probiotic contain live bacteria, but prebiotics contain only the fuel bacteria needs to thrive.

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Video: Reimer explains the use of prebiotic fibre.

In a 2009 study, Reimer found prebiotics could help adults control body fat. In a group of 48 overweight or obese participants, those who received 21 grams of prebiotic fibre each day lost an average of 1.03 kg of fat over 12 weeks. Participants who received a placebo gained an average of .45 kg over the same time period.

“We didn’t see people losing muscle mass or bone density during that weight loss, it was fat that was being targeting in the body,” Reimer explains.

She is now set to expand the research to see if prebiotic fibre can also help children lose body fat. The new research is funded by a grant from BMO Financial group.

“With this award, our team will now be able to determine if (prebiotic fibre) can be applied to children and incorporated into the guidelines of pediatric obesity management.”

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Inulin, a common form of prebiotic fibre, occurs naturally in some vegetables, whole grains and roots. Prebiotics are also found in fermented dairy products and occur naturally in breast milk.  Health Canada has also approved the use of a prebiotic supplement that has been added to some yogurts and cereals on the market.

“As we learn more and more about prebiotic fibres the food industry is definitely going to see the value in adding this into food products,” says Reimer. “Hopefully we reach a wider population with the health benefits.”

Sources of prebiotic fibre are:


  • Artichoke
  • Asparagus
  • Bananas
  • Garlic
  • Leeks
  • Onion
  • Tomatoes


  • Barley
  • Rye
  • Whole Grains


  • Chicory root
  • Dandelion root
  • Elecampane root

Dairy Products

  • Yogurt
  • Buttermilk
  • Kefir
  • Breast Milk

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