While our bodies need calories and a variety of nutrients, as well as insoluble fiber to provide bulk, the “food” for the microbiome is largely made up of soluble fiber (see below) along with some complex carbohydrates that reach the large intestine. These are sometimes called “prebiotics,” as opposed to “probiotics,” which are live yeast and good bacteria found in foods like live yogurt, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
Some sweeteners, like inulin, claim to be prebiotic fiber, but Dr Nikpay is wary: “If they say it has a fiber base and it’s sweetener, I’d say it’s almost no longer a fiber.” To create a sweetener, manufacturers “use enzymes or thermal or acid methods to actually break the open molecular bonds between the different units of sugar in a fiber or in a complex carbohydrate…and once you get one or two units is sugar from a fiber-health perspective.
The easiest solution, one might think, would be to take fiber supplements – easily found alongside vitamin pills at any health food store. But, says Dr. Nikpay, these are too standardized, too simplified. He likens gut bacteria to the people of London – a large, diverse mass that needs a varied diet. He is concerned with the idea that “you can complete yourself out of trouble.” No, he argues, you better stick to normal food.
Sprinkling bran on your cereal in the morning is a good idea, or do as Dr. Nikpay does and add some cut fruit with a mix of seeds, eating it with milk. “Yogurt is probably better for you, but I don’t like it,” he admits. Yogurt does indeed contain gut-healthy probiotic cultures – but as he makes clear in the book, any change in diet must be sustainable. “If I don’t like it, I’m not going to stick with it.”
So how can we add fiber to our diet? Whole grains, fruits and vegetables are good sources, as well as, surprisingly, herbs – Middle Eastern-style herb-rich salads like tabbouleh prove to be awfully gut-friendly. Cooking is trickier, so I asked Atherton for advice. “A whole wheat cake would be very dense and probably not very pleasant. But if you just replace 5% or 10% of the white flour with whole wheat flour, you’ll still get the really nice fluffy texture you get with white flour, but you’ll add fiber.
He also suggests boiling whole grains like buckwheat and spelled until soft, then storing them in a saucepan in the fridge. “Then if I’m eating an omelet or a pasta salad, I’m just going to add a few of those grains. They actually add a nice texture and crunch.”
Is it possible to consume too much fibre? “Where we are now, the answer is no,” says Dr. Nikpay. “I would really like to have this problem.” The worst that can happen is a bit of wind. Although, truth be told, it’s quite painful – and embarrassing. “Avoid anything that’s a fructo oligosaccharide,” he advises — the indigestible compounds known to cause wind, found in Jerusalem artichokes and inulin.
But, he points out, keep in mind that “you and I will have different bacteria. So we might react slightly differently to the same thing. My sister, for example, cannot eat chickpeas. It will just swell.
Introducing food slowly should help you get used to it, but (as I know all too well) it doesn’t always work. “You may have a slight intolerance to certain things, so just avoid them,” says Dr. Nikpay pragmatically. “Nature is full of fiber, you don’t have to have chickpeas.”
What is fiber?
Dietary fiber is the indigestible part of the plants we eat: there is no fiber in meat or dairy products. It roughly falls into two types, soluble and insoluble fiber, and both types provide bulk that tends to make us feel fuller, so it can help maintain a healthy weight.
Insoluble fiber (e.g. wheat bran) is composed mostly of cellulose and is not broken down at all in the body, passing directly into the intestine. It speeds up bowel processing time, which protects against bowel cancer and diverticulitis.
Soluble fiber (eg oat bran) will dissolve in water to make a viscous mixture – in the case of oats, to make porridge. Once eaten, it passes through the first small intestine (where most of the nutrients in food are absorbed) intact. But once it reaches the second large intestine, much of it is fermented and provides food for the most important bacteria (sometimes called the microbiome).
The Best Sources of Fiber, According to Dr. Nikpay
- Seeds: Flax seeds (aka linseeds, which contain 27g of fiber per 100g), sesame seeds (12g per 100g), poppy seeds (20g per 100g), and sunflower seeds ( 9 g per 100 g) are all excellent sources of fibre. Chia seeds, on the other hand, contain 34 g of fiber per 100 g
- Cereals: Cooked brown rice has 1.8g of fiber per 100g, while popcorn has 13g per 100g. Wholemeal flour delivers 11g per 100g, but be aware that 100% wholemeal bread is quite dense, so “wholemeal” breads, even fine artisan sourdoughs, are usually made with a mixture of white and wholemeal flour; sometimes it’s as little as 15 percent wholemeal flour
- Berries: Strawberries may contain only 1.8g of fiber in a 100g serving, but raspberries have 6.5g and blackberries have 5.3g. Wild blackberries can be even taller, so head for the hedges
- Cooked lentils: Fiber content varies from brand to brand, but one cup of home-cooked green lentils (i.e. 200g, or about 100g raw weight) can provide you with half of your daily fiber needs, or even more. Canned lentils tend to have less fiber
- Herbs: Many contain around 10g of fiber per 100g, so add to everything
- Nuts: Walnuts contain 6.7 g of fiber per 100 g; almonds and hazelnuts 9.7g per 100g. Roasted peanuts – technically a legume – pack 10g of fiber per 100g
- Legumes: Half a can (120g) of navy beans contains 9g of fibre, while half a can of chickpeas contains 5g. A generous serving of peas provides 6g per 100g
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This notice was published: 2021-10-14 17:09:44