It’s amazing how much research is emerging about gut health lately. Nearly everyday there’s a new study showing the links between the human microbiome and a specific disease or condition. We are heading in the direction of individualised nutritional treatments that shift gut bacteria in a certain direction to improve health. So exciting!
Food has magical powers to change your gut bacteria. Okay, not magical; pretty scientific really, and pretty damn fast if you choose. As fast as a few days with a drastic diet change, for better or, unfortunately, for worse.
Foods high in sugar are particularly bad for our gut bacteria. However, eating a lot of processed and packaged foods, and red meat in general, will not support the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Of course, the best diet to support the growth of healthy bacteria is one with A LOT of vegetables. This is where you’ll get that lovely stuff called fibre and resistant starch. These nutrients provide food (prebiotics) for your microbiome; also gas, but that’s ok. Some fruits, legumes, nuts and grains also provide food for your gut bacteria. Some of the best “prebiotic” foods to focus on include:
What is Fibre?
Dietary fibre is basically the edible parts of plants that are resistant to digestion and absorption. Fibre partially or completely ferments in the large intestine, providing food for beneficial bacteria. Dietary fibre plays many roles besides supporting gut bacteria, it also,
Food Labels and a Healthy Gut
When reading food labels, you want to avoid products that are high in sugar, contain additives and low in fibre. If you’re looking for products to feed your gut bacteria, fibre is the first thing to check. We should consume 25 to 30 grams of fibre per day. Most Australian’s do not get anywhere near this amount.
Although it’s always best to get the majority of your nutrients from wholefoods, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a high fibre cereal to support your gut health. However, be very aware of the sugar content as well.
First of all, check the ‘Nutritional Information’ panel. Don’t worry too much about the ‘Per serve’ column unless you are sure that this is exactly how much you will serve yourself (often it’s not). The ‘Per 100g’ is where you should look; this column should also be used when comparing products because different products will have different measurements for their serving sizes.
Under ‘Carbohydrate’ there will be ‘sugar’. A low sugar product will have 5g or less per 100g. Anything above 10g per 100g is considered a high sugar product. If the product contains fruit, the 'sugar' amount will also include natural sugars that come from fruit. If this is the case, have a look at the ingredients to get an idea of how much “processed sugar” it contains.
IBS and Prebiotic Foods
People who have medically diagnosed IBS often find high fibre foods aggravate their symptoms. As a result, this information may not apply at the moment. The ‘Monash University low FODMAP diet’ has shown to be an effective treatment for IBS. You should only take on this diet under supervision of a dietitian. It is recommended that this diet is followed for 2 to 6 weeks and then your dietitian will advise you on re-introducing foods slowly. The long-term goal of FODMAP is to return to a normal diet as much as possible. Avoiding “prebiotic foods” long term will impact the growth of certain bacteria in the gut.