gut feelings Getting in touch with your inner microbes.
A few easy-to-digest changes to your diet can help you to beat the bloat, get more energy, prevent diseases and feel good from the inside out.
You have probably heard it all before – that it takes guts to lead a good life – but here we mean it literally! There’s a reason why that old saying ‘you are what you eat’ is still relevant, and no more so than when it comes to looking after your digestion. The Western world is experiencing an overwhelming increase in ailments such as obesity, food allergies, asthma, eczema, and auto-immune diseases, including type 1 diabetes and arthritis – and nutritionists, doctors and the scientific community are all turning their attention to our tums as the cause. Here’s why: it’s not just our appetites we’re satisfying when we eat; it’s the trillions of healthy bacteria in our intestines that need proper nourishment to maintain the delicate balance in our systems. As our Health Council member, Associate Professor Tim Crowe, of Deakin University, says, “Look after your gut bacteria and they’ll look after you – that’s the simple message. It’s all about what you feed those bacteria – and the food they love is fibre, and lots of it.” However, the Western diet has become increasingly reliant on processed foods – sugar, refined carbohydrates (white bread, rice, pastries and biscuits), trans fats, and even the juices we drink rather eating fruit in its raw state (skin and all). All of this decreases the amount of soluble fibre that can be ‘eaten’ – or rather, fermented – by all those marvellous microbes in the small intestine. And then there’s resistant starch, contained in foods such as grains, seeds and legumes, green bananas and cold or even raw potatoes, and so-called because it resists digestion in the small intestine, but is consumed by the inhabitants of the large intestine. It’s been documented that people in developing nations – where diseases such as type 2 diabetes and colon cancer are far less prevalent – have been found to consume 30 to 40 grams of resistant starch per day. In the West, we only eat 3 to 8 grams daily, unless we’re actively following a high-fibre diet… Plus, antibiotics needed to destroy infection-causing bacteria can also have a dramatic impact on beneficial gut bacteria. According to Dr Laurence Macia, of Charles Perkins Centre, University of Sydney, more and more scientists think that the detrimental effects of the Western diet explains the sudden increased incidence of inflammatory diseases. “The best way to counter this is prevention – by eating loads of fibre and omega 3 fats, such as in the Mediterranean diet, and by getting regular exercise,” she says. Foods that nourish the good bacteria in your gut are known as prebiotics, while foods or supplements that add good bacteria to your gut are called probiotics – think live cultured yoghurt, Japanese miso, unpasteurised kimchi and sauerkraut.