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In my last two posts I looked at the importance of gut health and the impact it can have on our general health, and then at probiotics and what they may, or may not, be able to do to help positively influence your gut microflora. In this post I want to look at an area of gut health called prebiotics.

We know the benefits of eating dietary fibre in general, but we are learning more and more about the benefits of this particular type of fibre. Prebiotics are essentially the foods that ‘healthy’ bacteria such as lactobacilli and bifidobacteria feed on in the gut, causing them to flourish and multiply creating a gut microflora that is beneficial to health. There is good evidence that consuming foods with prebiotics can have a positive impact on the growth of these good bacteria.2

Prebiotics can be taken as a supplement (e.g inulin powder), but there are a wide array of foods that are good sources of prebiotic including:

  • wheat, oats, barley
  • bananas
  • soybeans, beans, peas, lentils
  • garlic, onions, leeks
  • Jerusalem artichoke and asparagus.1

Some prebiotics may cause side effects in some people due to the gas produced during their fermentation in the large intestine, for example in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) sufferers. If you do find you have adverse effects to fibre rich foods, in particular prebiotic foods above, it might be worth speaking to a qualified dietitian.

Other dietary factors can also effect the gut microbiota. For example, restricted eating including low carbohydrate diets as well as consuming too much fat and protein have all been shown to have negative effects on gut microbiota. Therefore, eating less meat, more plant foods (and consequently more fibre), has been shown to have a positive impact on our microflora.2,3 The great news is that this is nothing new in terms of recommendations. These dietary patterns are consistent with current public health advice for a healthy balanced diet.

This is a fascinating area of emerging science and the research into gut microbiota, probiotics and prebiotics and their potential impact on all areas of our health and well-being is likely to escalate rapidly over the coming years, so watch this space. In the meantime, and before you send off your stool sample for analysis, I would like to conclude my gut health series by leaving you with my simple tips for boosting your gut microflora:

Five top tips for boosting your gut microflora:

  • Eat more plant foods including fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, pulses, nuts and seeds- aim to eat 30 different plant foods over the course of the week.1
  • Choose wholegrain cereals instead of refined white varieties
  • Increase the variety, and frequency of consumption, of foods containing prebiotics (listed above)
  • Eat less meat
  • Eat natural yogurt with live bacteria regularly

Following these five simple principles you will hopefully develop a diverse microflora brimming with good bacteria and thus reap the benefit through improved general health. These are the steps I am taking towards fighting my daughter’s allergies through protecting her gut, and hopefully reinforcing her immune system. The leeks are taking some getting used to, and I haven’t tried her on artichokes yet, but they are next on the list! Good Luck.

References

  1. Nutrilicious Free Nutriwebinar: The Gut Microbiome Feeding The Gut For Optimum Health. Accessed 22nd October 2019.
  2. British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) Free lunchtime webinar: The prebiotic potential of our diets – fibre and more. Accessed 22nd October 2019.
  3. Nutrilicious Free Nutriwebinar: Dietary fibre: an old concept in new light? With Dr Megan Rossi, RD. Accessed 22nd October 2019.

rachel

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