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In Eating for a Healthy Gut! Part 1 I explained how the health of your gut microbiome impacts almost every aspect of your health, including your immune system, hormones, digestion, mood, and even your skin.
As you may recall, you have an estimated 100 trillion bacteria living in your large intestines (which can weigh up to 2 pounds)! The key to a healthy gut is to maintain diversity and balance of your gut microbes. And as we have discussed before, your diet and lifestyle have a huge impact on keeping the best bugs around!
Probiotics may get more attention when it comes to our microbiome with the increase in popularity of fermented foods, beverages, and probiotic supplements, and rightfully so. But, along with consuming fermented foods, a key component to gut health is to consume the right fuel needed for the healthy bacteria to survive. Can you guess what that is?
A diet rich in fiber and prebiotics has been shown to improve and maintain a more diverse community of bacterial species than a low-fiber diet. Also, the good news is that your gut bacteria are highly adaptable. You can increase the diversity of your gut bacteria in as little as 24 hours after switching from a low fiber diet to consuming 30 or more grams of fiber!
So, how does fiber help? When your gut bugs consume your dietary fiber, they generate short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) such as butyrate, propionate, and acetate. In general, these SCFA’s (especially butyrate), are anti-inflammatory, improve the health of your intestinal lining, and promote a healthy gut immune system.
There is a specific type of fiber that feeds your gut bacteria, called prebiotics. Prebiotics contain carbohydrates such as fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS), or inulin and remain undigested until they reach the colon where they are fermented and consumed by the bacteria.
Good food sources of prebiotics include onion, garlic, leek, banana, Jerusalem artichoke, chicory root, jicama, and dandelion greens. In addition, certain ways of cooking whole grains, legumes, and potatoes provide resistant starches that can also fuel your microbiome.
In addition to feeding your gut bacteria, high fiber diets have been shown to reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and colon cancer. Let’s take a closer look at those benefits.
Types of Fiber
Fiber can be broken down into two main groups, soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber can dissolve in water and make a gel-like substance. It is found in many plant foods, such as oats, peas, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds (including ground flaxseed and chia seed), and some fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber can bind and eliminate excess cholesterol in the gut and it helps slow the absorption of dietary sugar, allowing for better blood sugar control in people with or at risk for prediabetes and diabetes.
Insoluble fiber, unlike soluble fiber, does not dissolve in water, which means it helps to provide bulk in the digestive tract. Insoluble fiber can help you feel more full with meals, prevents and improves constipation and can aid in weight loss. Good sources of insoluble fiber include whole grains, beans, seeds, dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, asparagus and celery, and fruits, especially raspberries, pears, and apples.
Many plant foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, and the best approach is to include an abundance of both types of fiber in your daily diet. I recommend a minimum of 30 grams and up to 50 or more grams of fiber a day. Most adults in the United States, for comparison, only consume about 15 grams of fiber a day. It can be helpful to track your fiber intake for a few days to see how much you consume. Then you can slowly add more fiber-rich foods to your diet until you hit your goal, while also making sure you are adequately hydrated.
It is difficult to consume enough fiber if your diet is high in processed foods, refined grains, added sugars, and processed meats and fats. In addition, animal foods, such as meat, poultry, fish, dairy and eggs, contain no fiber, and thus need to be balanced with a high amount of plant-based foods.
So, the two best dietary approaches to maintain a healthy gut microbiome is to consume a high-fiber diet as well as regularly consume fermented foods that contain live cultures.
However, keep in mind that that approach may not work for everyone. For some people, consuming fermented foods or certain fibers can cause uncomfortable symptoms- gas, bloating, abdominal distention, constipation, or loose stools. For people suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), then certain fibers can make symptoms worse.
If you have any of the symptoms or conditions mentioned and would like guidance on supporting a healthy microbiome, then consider scheduling a video appointment. I will assess whether your diet is helping or hurting your gut and will recommend individualized dietary, lifestyle, and supplement approaches to heal your gut and help you feel your best!
If you think certain foods are affecting your health and would like an expert in your corner helping guide and support you, consider scheduling a video appointment. I can help you identify food sensitivities that are causing symptoms, guide you through an individualized elimination and reintroduction diet, and help you heal your gut for optimal health and wellness!
At WellnessScript, we focus on solving health problems others can’t. Our video appointments bring experts from across the country into your home or office and are great for everyone as they fit into our crazy and hectic schedules and ensure that you have the time you need to feel heard and get all of your questions answered.
Functional & Naturopathic Medicine
$200 Initial Consult - 1 hour
Dr. Julie Briley
Follow-up Appointment: $100 for 30 min/$200 for 60 min
Expertise: Food sensitivities, gut health, detoxification, hormone balancing, adrenal fatigue.
Clinical Experience: 10+ years practicing naturopathic and functional medicine, advanced training in digestive disorders & food as medicine.