New CSIRO diet franks gut-health trend
BASED on decades of research from CSIRO, the CSIRO Healthy Gut Diet includes a series of meal plans based on wholefoods with higher amounts of fibre, especially resistant starch, for improving gut health.
“After the brain, the gut is really the next most crucial and complex part of the human body,” CSIRO Director of Health and Biosecurity Dr Rob Grenfell said.
“Maintaining a healthy gut can lead to enormous benefits. Beyond digesting our food, it is the coal face of the nutrients our body absorbs, regulates hormones used throughout our body, and is a frontline of our immune response system.”
CSIRO researcher and co-author of the CSIRO Healthy Gut Diet, Dr Michael Conlon, said having a healthy gut was not as simple as just increasing fibre intake.
“There are many factors which influence gut health, but diet appears to have the greatest influence. Dietary fibre in particular is vital for a healthy gut,” Dr Conlon said.
“For years we’ve thought all fibre was good for was helping to keep our bowel movements regular, but we now know that fibre offers more health benefits than this, many of which support our gut bacteria in a healthy way.
“But not all fibres are equal. Our research shows resistant starch is real fibre gold and a major piece of the gut health puzzle that may be missing from many diets.
“The recipes and meal plans have been designed with higher amounts of fibre and resistant starch to feed the gut bacteria. This includes a wide variety of whole foods that are as close to their natural state as possible – wholegrain cereals, fruits, vegetables, legumes and a few nuts and seeds.”
The benefits of healthy gut bacteria include:
- Creating an environment that stops the growth of potentially harmful bugs.
- Ensuring the gut barrier stays strong to stop nasty bacteria from entering the body.
- Promoting appropriate immune responses via the 70–80 per cent of the body’s immune cells found in the gut.
- Keeping our gut cells healthy which help eliminate the DNA mutations that can contribute to colorectal cancer.
- Promoting hydration from fluid and electrolyte uptake in the large bowel.
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Gut health trending
‘Gut health’ has been trending lately, and CSIRO couldn’t be happier. Your gastrointestinal tract is one of the most important (and complex) parts of your body, writes CSIRO author Eliza Keck.
It performs the essential role of digesting and absorbing the nutrients you need to survive, but you might not be aware it is also responsible for regulating hormones and it has a strong interaction with your immune system: 70–80 per cent of your immune cells live in your gut.
Unfortunately, as with most popular topics, misinformation spreads faster than gastro in school, making it difficult to sort fact from fiction. So, what’s a person to do? Turn to our scientists, of course! Like microbiota bacteria on resistant starch, let us break down gut health for you.
You’ve probably heard that a high-fibre diet plays an important role in helping to reduce the risk of colorectal cancers. Australia has one of the highest fibre intakes in the Western world, but bowel cancer has remained the nation’s second biggest cancer killer. So… what’s with that? Did scientists get it wrong? No, they’ve just learnt that when it comes to gut health, all fibre is not made equal. A particular type of fibre, resistant starch, is the big piece of the gut health puzzle that has been missing from most Western diets – something we hope to remedy.
Resistant starch is a special kind of starch that is indigestible, so it travels all the way through to your large intestine. While your body may not be able to digest resistant starch, it’s the perfect food for microbiomes. These special bacteria break down the resistant starch and release small carbohydrate molecules that other bacteria feast on. In turn, they release even tinier molecules called butyrate. Butyrate is absorbed by your large intestine which encourages blood flow, keeping your intestine healthy. Butyrate also helps your body detect damaged cells so they can be destroyed before turning into cancer.
So, is my gut healthy?
Do you fart or burp often? It may be embarrassing, but this could be a sign of good gut health. In a healthy gut, microbes are fermenting and as with any fermentation process, gas is produced and has to go somewhere. If it has trouble escaping, you can end up bloated and cramping which can be quite unpleasant, so don’t hold back! The average adult passes about 0.5 – 1.5 litres of ‘flatus’ a day, and even though gender has no bearing on the volume of gas produced, men tend to let rip around 12 times compared to women’s less frequent, but more voluminous, seven times per day. Of course, if you’re suddenly producing more gas than you usually do, or if they smell unbearable, this could mean you’ve got a gut issue worth talking to a health professional about.
You may be surprised to hear that the frequency of your poo is actually less important than you might think: anywhere between three times a day and three times a week is within the normal range. Also surprisingly, your genetics have a lot to do with how often you poo, but frequency is also strongly influenced by our fibre intake, so no excuses! It’s worth mentioning that if you have a very slow ‘transit time’ (the time it takes for food to move through your gut) and your poo doesn’t weigh much you may be at greater risk of developing gut diseases and disorders, so yet another reason to keep up your fibre intake. The ‘perfect poo’ should be soft, light to deep brown, smooth and cylindrical. If it’s hard, lumpy or flattened, involves urgency, straining or lasting discomfort, things aren’t working quite right.
Unfortunately, the symptoms for many serious gut health problems are very similar to many harmless disorders so it can be tough to know when to see a doctor. Some signs that it’s time to visit the doc include; a sustained change in bowel movements; prolonged, severe or recurring pain; poo that is either black, greyish or has blood or mucus in it; unexplained weight loss; or difficulty swallowing. Importantly, don’t try and self-treat symptoms as you can make matters much worse.