Do you know that it is very important to incorporate high fiber foods in our diet for a healthy gut and longer life?
In recent years, we have started to learn that a healthy gut leads to a healthy body and mind. Recent studies indicate that our gut also known as the intestine consists of trillions of tiny microorganisms. They are referred to as gut microbiota which plays a very big role in our overall health. These microorganisms help breakdown food in our body and absorb nutrients. Hence everything that we eat has a direct effect on the microbes that are present in the intestine. There is a huge interest these days to improve our gut health. This is due to studies indicating that the gut microbiota not only affects our digestive system but also helps to maintain a healthy weight, mental and cardiovascular health.
Every person’s gut microbiota and flora are said to be unique and different and are known to comprise bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and other microbes. However, not all of them are good and beneficial for our body as the normal gut flora also comprises of bad microbes that result in diseases when they overpower the good ones. Hence, it is important to keep a good and harmonious balance between the good and bad microbes and ensure that our body is functioning at its best. Therefore, there is a need to identify what foods we should consume that can nurture the good microbes and improve gut health and foods to avoid that the bad microbes generally feed on. Hence, it is said that our diet determines whether we will have good health or bad health.
Role of dietary fibers in gut health
Generally, when we plan to follow a healthy diet and eat well, we keep a track of how much carbohydrates, fats, sugar, and proteins we are consuming. However, one thing that we tend to not think about is the dietary fibers which are very good for our health. The dietary fibers can pass undigested through the digestive system until they reach the large intestine. Therefore, increasing our fiber intake can strongly improve our gut health as good bacteria ferment and feed on them. They are an important nutrient that is required by the good bacteria to prosper in our gut and produce certain products that have direct implications on our health.
Our gut bacteria ferment the dietary fibers to produce short-chain fatty acids which are beneficial for our gut health. They then provide energy to our intestinal cells and maintain the integrity of our gastrointestinal tract that prevents infections and inflammation. Unfortunately, many of us are not able to get the recommended amount of fibers that our body requires. Therefore, I will let you know about some high fiber foods that you can incorporate in your diet. This will give a good start to your journey of good gut health.
High fiber foods to include in our diet for a healthy gut
Legumes are fruits or seeds of plants belonging to the Fabaceae family. They are commonly eaten around the world and are a very rich source of fibers. Certain legumes such as lentils, different dals, chickpeas or garbanzo beans (chole in Hindi), kidney beans (rajma in Hindi) and fava beans are rich in carbohydrates. They consist of both soluble and insoluble fibers and resistant starch which play a key role in gut microbiota to improve our gut health. The carbohydrates present in the legumes also contribute to their lower glycemic index. This helps to maintain blood glucose levels.
All fruits are known to be rich in fiber. However, certain fruits such as apples with skin, pears, and berries have higher fiber content than the others. The skin on these fruits such as in apples and pears contains high amounts of insoluble fiber. On the other hand, berries are rich in soluble fiber. They all are whole fruits which when consumed not only improve our gut health but also reduces our risk of developing diabetes. Further, they contain antioxidants that are beneficial for our health.
In addition to the above-mentioned fruits, unripe bananas are known to contain high amounts of resistant starch. The resistant starch cannot be easily digested and functions as a dietary fiber and food supply for the microbes in our gut.
All fruits are good for our health. But we need to incorporate more high fiber fruits in our diet for better gut health.
Similar to the fruits, we need to consume more vegetables on a daily basis. They are a low-calorie fibrous source which helps to lower the risk of different chronic diseases. Vegetables such as artichoke, asparagus, beetroot, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, carrots, green leafy vegetables including kale and spinach contain higher amounts of fiber than other vegetables. However, one thing that we need to pay attention to is that we should always try to eat the fibrous vegetables before any meal for increased fiber consumption.
4. Whole grains
Whole grains include those grains that have an intact structure containing all three parts of the grain. This includes the bran, endosperm, and germ. The whole grains are very rich sources of dietary fibers that are resistant to digestion by the digestive enzymes. They are then fermented in the large intestine by the different microorganisms. This helps to maintain a healthy microflora in the gut which results in a healthy gut. Further, their absorption time into our blood is slowed down which helps to regulate our blood sugar levels.
We must replace all refined grains (white flour, white bread, and white rice) in our diet with whole grains. The refined grains are also whole grains initially but they undergo a refining process. This leads to the removal of the bran and germ parts of the grains leaving just the endosperm and making them less fibrous. Hence, they are easily digested and absorbed in the blood. This not only prevents the fibers from reaching the intestine to be fed upon by the good bacteria but also leads to a sudden increase in our glucose levels. Few whole grain options that are high fiber foods and that should be incorporated by all of us in our diet include barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, wholewheat, different millets, amaranth, and brown rice.
5. Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds are versatile foods that can be ideal snacking options for satisfying our hunger pangs. They not only have very high fiber content but they also contain different nutrients and healthy fats. Some great choices of nuts and seeds that we can include in our diet for better gut health include almonds, cashews, walnuts, pistachios, peanuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds. However, it is best if we consume plain nuts and seeds rather than those with added sugar or salt. There is no doubt that the nuts and seeds are healthy and highly fibrous. However, it is recommended that we always consume them in small portions rather than in excess. This is because they could result in increased calorie intake and weight gain.
Probiotics are not basically high fiber foods. Instead, they are live bacteria comprising mainly of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacterial species which are beneficial for our health. They are generally administered in their viable form to different yogurts, fermented milk, and food supplements. All these products are easily available in the market. When we consume these products, the bacterial species present in them reach the gut and help to maintain gut health. The probiotic product that I consume is fermented milk which is delicious and healthy at the same time. The brands I prefer for the fermented milk are Yakult (easily available in India in supermarkets) and Betagen (easily available in Thailand and many Asian countries). These fermented milk have low sugar options available too.
However, one thing that we need to ensure when we consume probiotics is to never have them after a large meal. This is because it will slow down the passage of bacteria through the digestive tract. This would result in bacterial death in the acidic stomach environment before they can reach the intestine and carry out their work.
Food to avoid for a healthy gut
In this blog post, I have mentioned specific foods that we need to incorporate in our diet. This will ensure not only a healthy gut but also a healthy body and a healthy mind. Our dietary habits and the foods we eat influence the different types of bacteria present in the gut. So just as high fiber foods have a positive effect on the good microbes in the gut, there are certain foods that can have a negative impact on them. This includes sugars and artificial sweeteners.
We know that good bacteria feed on high fiber foods. But what we may not know is that sugars and sweeteners are fed upon by the bad bacteria. Hence we should limit their intake in our diet. We can opt for natural sweeteners because consuming large amounts of sugars and artificial sweeteners will allow the bad bacteria to grow and overpower the good ones. This can have many negative effects on our health. Similarly, fried and processed foods and products with food additives need to be minimized or eliminated from our diet so as to prevent the growth of bad bacteria.
A healthy gut microbiome is very essential for our health and wellbeing. Hence, we need to begin our journey to optimal gut health immediately. It is something that is not so difficult. It can be achieved easily just by switching a few food options in our diet and eliminating a few bad ones from our diet.
The human gut health is more important than previously thought. This is because they have a big impact on our overall health and wellbeing. Therefore, lifestyle changes need to be made mainly by bringing a few changes in our diet. This will not just positively affect our gut health but also our overall health. Dietary fibers are a key nutrient for optimal gut health that needs to be included more in our diet. They are known to be found in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. They not only support our digestive health but promote the growth of good bacteria in our gut which helps to boost our immune system.
The human gut health is more important than previously thought and has a big impact on our overall health and wellbeing. Therefore, lifestyle changes need to be made mainly by bringing a few changes in our diet which will not just positively affect our gut health but also our overall health. Dietary fibers are a key nutrient for optimal gut health that needs to be included more in our diet and is known to be found in whole foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds. They not only support our digestive health but promote the growth of good bacteria in our gut which help to boost our immune system.