Different types of dietary fibre have different effects on your gut, so you need to include a range of foods to ensure you include the best types of dietary fibre for optimal gut health
Research suggests that eating a combination and variety of different high-fibre foods is important for our optimal health.
High fibre foods in general include vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds and including all of these foods in your diet is recommended (where tolerated) for a variety of gut benefits. However, understanding which may be the most beneficial, including to help restore and maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in your large bowel, may be the key – dietary fibre is not just about keeping your bowel movements regular and passing with ease!
Our gut bacteria is well recognised to have an important role in the absorptions of nutrients, keeping our immune system strong, preventing certain cancers, improving the integrity of the gut lining and minimising gut inflammation. Recent research is also indicating that a healthy balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ gut bacteria may also result in improving systemic effects beyond the gut (think fatigue, arthritis, acne, eczema, mental health and weight management to name a few). It’s the gas and short-chain fatty acids that our bacteria release after feeding on certain fibres and foods (prebiotics) we eat, that are responsible for these benefits. Dr Jane Muir, Nutritional scientist and researcher at Monash University says that getting the balance of prebiotics and total dietary fibre is what’s important.
Tim Spector, author of The Diet Myth likens the gut to a garden. “Think of your microbial community as your own garden that you’re responsible for. You need to make sure the soil (your intestines) and the plants (microbes) are healthy, containing plenty of nutrients and to stop weeds or poisonous plants (toxins or disease microbes) taking over, we need to cultivate the widest variety of different plants and seeds as possible”. I love this!
Fibres and foods most beneficial for your gut
Prebiotic fibres (e.g. galacto-oligosaccharides and fructans): support the growth of beneficial bacteria and the production of short chain fatty acids, which provide nourishment to our intestinal cells and the movement of fibre through the gut. Legumes (e.g. chickpeas, red kidney beans, borlotti beans, four bean mix) and lentils are one of the highest sources, with others including onions, garlic, leeks, wheat and nuts.
Resistant starch: starch not digested in the small intestine (therefore acts as a fibre) and provides food for our bacteria. Good sources include cooked and cooled potatoes and pasta, as well as legumes, lentils, barley, rye, cashews, oats, green bananas, banana flour.
Simple sugars (e.g. fructose and polyols) in fruits and vegetables: draws water into the gut to assist movement of fibre and prevent constipation. Apples, pears, figs, mango, asparagus, artichoke, sugar snap peas, snow peas, mushrooms and cauliflower are good sources.
Polysaccharides: provide bulk and absorb water to promote normal bowel movements. These are found in bran, oats, barley, rye, wholegrain bread and brown rice.
If increasing the amount of fibre in your day, start slowly to ensure your gut bacteria has time to multiply and adapt.
Of course dietary fibre isn’t the only important component of our diet to keep our gut (and body) healthy and happy. High amounts of refined sugars and starches, certain types of fats, toxins and alcohol can have a negative impact, while natural foods rich in vitamins, minerals, nourishing fats, proteins and antioxidants will have a positive effect. But work on one thing at a time I say!
Hope this helps
Originally published at feelyourbestnutrition.com.au/blog