You’ve probably heard of pectin as something your mom added for thickening while making homemade jams and jellies, as it forms a gel upon heating and exposure to acid and sugar. Because nowadays few people continue to make homemade jams and jellies, most people are largely unaware of this thing called pectin. But, beyond its practical application in jams and jellies, pectin is also a prebiotic fiber with important effects on the intestinal microbiome. Because we are always on the lookout for better ways to incorporate prebiotic fibers into our daily lifestyle, let’s talk about pectin.
First of all, pectin is a natural component of plants. You have therefore been taking in modest amounts simply by consuming apples, pears, carrots, and citrus peel (e.g., zest). Commercial pectin is usually sourced from citrus peel and the solid remains of apples after both have been processed for juices. Unlike gelatin, also used to thicken liquids, pectin is a polysaccharide fiber, while gelatin is a collection of proteins. Pectin comes in a variety of forms due to variation in the composition of number and forms of galacturonan and rhamnogalacturonan sugars, just as the fiber, inulin, is a variable chain of fructans and the galactooligosaccharide prebiotic of legumes are chains of galactose. (Recall that fibers are chains, or polymers, of sugars.)
Among the prebiotic fiber benefits of pectin that have been documented include:
- Cultivation and proliferation of Bacteroidetes in the intestines that comprise many of the species believed to be desirable in the human gut. Beneficial Bifidobacteria species are also cultivated.
- Cultivation of Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, believed to be among the most important of bacterial species in the human gastrointestinal tract (that we shall be discussing further in future Wheat Belly Blog posts).
- Activation of a variety of anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory phenomena
- Preliminary evidence suggests that pectin exerts a weight loss effect
- Pectin 15 grams per day (5 teaspoons) reduced LDL cholesterol by 10%. (While we ignore the often misleading LDL cholesterol value around here, it can suggest that the real value—LDL particle number—is reduced, a beneficial effect.)
- Pectin may be beneficial in reducing potential for colon cancer, likely via reduction in inflammation in the colon.
- Production of short-chain fatty acids, acetate and butyrate, are increased by pectin. Short-chain fatty acids are known to reduce intestinal inflammation, provide nutrition to the intestinal lining, and to yield many metabolic benefits outside the colon such as reduced insulin resistance and reduced triglycerides.
Interestingly, citrus pectin (15 grams per day) has also been demonstrated to be an effective intestinal chelator of lead with measurable reductions in blood lead levels.
The key with prebiotic fibers is therefore variety. Be mindful of your prebiotic fiber intake and vary your routine, not just relying, for instance, on inulin added to your coffee. Pectin sources should therefore be one of the components in the variety of prebiotic fibers you take in. Consider adding pectin, e.g., 2 teaspoons providing 5.6 grams pectin, to various foods to either thicken or simply for the prebiotic fiber effect. Add it to your smoothies or shakes, for instance, either in combination with inulin, raw white potato, green unripe banana, or by itself. You can also add it to your baking. (Future recipes to come in the Wheat Belly Blog.) Of course, you can also do it the truly natural way and have an apple, citrus zest, or carrots. But don’t have an apple a day—too many net carbs (around 24) all at once; instead have half an apple twice per day or a smaller apple.
Here’s a simple recipe for strawberry jam that includes pectin:
Strawberry Jam with Pectin
Spread this tasty Strawberry Jam (pictured above) on your favorite grain-free bread, muffin, pancakes, or waffles. (Just be mindful of your net carb intake.)
Makes about 2 1/2 cups. Each tablespoon contains 1.5-2.0 grams net carbs.
4 cups strawberries (approximately 25 medium-sized)
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup fresh or prepared lemon or lime juice
Sweetener equivalent to 1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar (e.g., 4-6 tablespoons Virtue Sweetener)
2 tablespoons pectin*
*If dextrose (glucose) is an ingredient in your pectin powder, this is okay, as the quantity is modest when distributed into the entire recipe.
In blender, combine strawberries, water, lemon juice, sweetener, pectin and blend until smooth.
In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat until all sweetener dissolved. Turn heat up to medium-high until boil reached; allow to boil for one minute, then remove from heat.
Cool and distribute into clean glass container(s) and refrigerate.