In the first part of this series we offered a tantalising glimpse into the dark and murky world of your intestines and in the second part we began exploring how a poor microbiome can lead to health issues, both physical and mental. Your microbiome plays a crucial part in your health and weight, so we need to learn how we can nurture it for our greater good. Here in ‘How Smart is Your Gut – Part 3.1 we will take a look at fibre and resistant starch and the benefits of a varied diet.
So, what can we do that will help us to be healthier and to lose weight? Turns out there are so many things within our control that will help us grow a blossoming, blooming, health giving, weight changing microbiome and the tools have always been within our reach. Now let’s find out what they are.
Step 1 – Fibre and Resistant Starch
We don’t eat enough fibre. Unless you do! But you probably don’t. We all know that fibre is good for us, but what we don’t usually know is that resistant starch (RS) is also good for us. And most of us have very little idea of where to get RS from. Fibre rich foods and RS are great for nourishing parts of the microbiome rather than actually planting more good stuff in there – Fibre and RS feeds the better parts of our intestinal garden.
Resistant starch refers to starchy foods that are simply resistant to digestion and so reaches your large intestine relatively intact where it feeds all of the good bacteria dwelling down there, also helping to produce a wonderful chemical called butyrate in the process. Butyrate production in our large intestine might well be one of the deciding factors in how inflammation affects our health. So how do we get this RS? You might be in for a surprise.
Resistant Starch is available in many of the foods we consume regularly but we fail to activate it. Those common starchy foods such as bread, pasta, rice and potatoes all have starch but in a not so resistant form until we perform some magic. Studies have found that subjecting these foods to heating and cooling massively multiplies the amount of resistant starch in them. One study found that cooking rice, cooling it down and then reheating it in the microwave multiplied the RS by 15 times. That’s incredible. Again, I suggest reading the excellent book, ‘The Clever Guts Diet,’ for more on this. Similar results occur with pasta, potatoes probably (we’ll keep you informed as the research develops) and bread, frozen and then toasted seems to be far healthier than eaten in its basic form. As well as feeding our microbiome in the depths of our large intestine, the more resistant the starch the fewer calories we take from it too. A double whammy if trying to lose weight.
Whilst the supermarket shelves are packed full of probiotics, drink s and yoghurts promising to add a touch of culture to your innards, their claims may be spurious. Scant evidence backs up their claims. But fibre definitely raises levels of one great bacteria – bifidobacterial. So instead of reaching for that expensive little pot from your local store, munch an apple or a few carrots. Or cook and cool some rice and reheat it, thoroughly of course and then savour at your leisure. Oh, and green bananas before they have ripened are full of resistant starch. Eat them before this changes into simpler carbs.
Variety is the Spice of Life
It’s true – variety really is the spice of life and spices might be the variety we need. But not just spices, but variety of everything. The health of your gut is dependent on a wide and varied eco system. The more varied the microbiome, the better we can cope with the assaults it faces. This study identifies this but also strongly suggests that dietary diversity has been lost over the last half a century.
A few friends of mine used to poke fun at my diet as it was, in their words, very beige. The truth is I’m a fussy eater. Although my choices were usually healthy enough I would repeatedly eat the same things day in and day out. Something had to change. I did it first with a Nutrininja. For those who don’t know what a Nutrininja is, it is basically a high-speed blender that makes short work of even the toughest vegetables and fruits and turns them into a puree or smoothie. Adding water or more juicy fruits will make the concoction less thick but either way, the Nutrininja takes nothing out of the ingredients unlike many standard juicers, so all of the goodness remains. So how did this help me? I started with a few apples and oranges with a banana thrown in for good measure. I quite like these three fruits so there was no risk to my delicate palette. The thick juice went down well. Now I added a couple of leaves of spinach from my wife’s shelf in the fridge. To my surprise there was no real discernible difference to the taste, but I was now eating four different food types in one dish. We had sorrel growing in the garden, so the next ‘juice’ I made I put some of this in. Again, it was better than tolerable, so my variety was going up. Seeing the progress, my wife started creating concoctions for me and became a regular at the local farm shop. To this day I like my apple and oranges base and then throw in almost anything, albeit in smaller amounts just to feed the microbiome garden.
In addition to this, I discovered seeds (which also go well in the Nutrininja). I bought a selection of seeds from the supermarket and mixed them up in a big jar. Now, whenever I have porridge or breakfast cereal I sprinkle a teaspoon or two of my seed mix on or in and have added about five different ingredients. My gut garden must be blossoming by now.