Bloating, cramping, wind and funny noises, all gut issues that most of us experience at some point in our lives. For a growing number of people, these symptoms are so frequent that they impact their lives. According the Gut Foundation of Australia, half our population complain of some digestive problem in any 12 month period. Diet and lifestyle play an important part in a healthy gut which ultimately makes us feel good. Let’s take a look at some of the most important contributors and how they play a role in our health.
Our digestive system is full of good and ‘not so good’ bacteria known as the gut microbiome. To ensure the good bacteria are at numbers required to keep our gut healthy and feeling good, we need to nourish them by eating the right foods they thrive on. Our microbiome feed on foods rich in resistant starch – a fibre that can not be digested by our bodies but instead, is broken down to become food for our gut bacteria. In the process, a waste product called butyrate, a short chain fatty acids, used by our large intestine as a fuel source to keep the cells healthy with potential bowel cancer prevention properties. Short chain fatty acids have also been associated with positive impacts on a immune function.
Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend a daily dietary fibre intake of 25g for adult women and 30g for adult men. The older we get, the more important fibre intake gets. Like most things, with age our digestive system starts to slow down. It’s not uncommon for many to blame fibre for all their gut issues but it’s about how much, how often and what type you are eating that can make the difference. With the majority of Australians not meeting the recommendations it’s important to look at where it’s found and how you can start to introduce the right amounts of the right types to start feeling good!
Types of fibre:
Fibre is also known as prebiotics – the food of probiotics or good bacteria. Probiotics cannot survive and grow without food, a common mistake many make when they purchase probiotic supplements. To help increase the number of our probiotics in our gut it’s important to eat foods that fuel them – foods that are high in fibre.
There are two types of fibre found in the foods we eat that play a role in gut health:
Another substance that is gaining gold stars for its role in a healthy gut is resistant starch. Although not traditionally thought of as a true fibre, it plays a similar role. Resistant starch is found in starchy carbohydrate based foods and as its name suggests, resists digestion. Foods rich in this starch include unripe bananas, lentils, potatoes and many unprocessed cereals and grains. An extracted form known as Hi-Maize is now being added to manufactured goods such as bread and breakfast cereals to bump the fibre value of foods without any visibility.
With any increase in fibre their needs to be an increase in the amount of water consumed. This will help to ensure stools are kept soft and easy to pass. Without increasing the amount of water in the diet, constipation and discomfort can result. This can be a symptom that many experience when they start following a healthy eating plan. Their dietary fibre intake goes up considerably from what they are used to and they forget to drink more water. While following a high fibre diet, drink water with meals and aim to include a good 1.5-2L throughout the day. On hot days and times when you are active, this should go up even more.
Preventing discomfort from increasing fibre:
Spreading fibre intake out across the day is an easy way to help control any undesirable symptoms that high fibre diets may create. Try not to eat all your fibre in one meal and distribute it out evenly over the day. A few easy tips to help achieve this include:
See, it’s not rocket science – a healthy balanced diet once again prevails for gut health! Keep it consistent, eat your fruit, vegetables and whole grains and don’t over do the load at any one meal. Feed your bacteria to help them grow and make you feel good.
Jenn Madz, Senior Dietitian