The program presented a variety of scientific research indicating a healthy gut biota can decrease our propensity for (or even heal) many common diseases including asthma, allergies, ulcerative colitis, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, emphysema and MS (1&2). The simple formula presented by Catalyst went a little like this:
A Good Diet = Good Gut Bacteria = Good Health
A Bad Diet = Bad Gut Bacteria = Bad Health
And when it comes to good gut bacteria, fibre is their food of choice. But why fibre of all things? It is just so boring. Isn't it?
Scientists have really only just begun investigating the vastly complex world of gut bacteria so they don't actually know a lot yet. But when it comes to inflammatory diseases like asthma, one theory is that dietary fibre is digested by the bacteria in our gut to produce short chain fatty acids, which have a natural anti-inflammatory effect on the body (1).
We may not know exactly why fibre is good for our gut bacteria but we do know that it's very important. We also know that we can transform our gut bacteria (and our health) quite profoundly and quite quickly simply by eating more of it.
So what is dietary fibre anyway? Basically it is the edible, indigestible portion of plants - and it isn't always "fibrous", by the way. Dietary fibre can be soluble or insoluble. Soluble fibre dissolves in water, forming a gel-like consistency and ferments in the colon into gases while insoluble fibre doesn't dissolve in water and can be either bulking fibre (promoting bowel regularity) or prebiotic fibre, which is also digested through fermentation, in the large intestine. Insoluble fibre tends to increase the movement of food through the system while soluble fibre tends to slow it down (3).
The recommended daily intake of dietary fibre is 25 grams for women and 30 grams for men (3). But even this seemingly low level can be difficult to achieve, particularly if you have a diet high in meat and processed foods (which are usually low in fibre, unless they have been fortified in some way).
I don't know about you but I generally associate fibre with fruits and veggies (particularly ones that require a lot of chewing), All-Bran and Metamucil. But foods containing fibre are more numerous and far more interesting than you could imagine. I created this little chart to blow your minds. Just check out how much fibre is found in spices, herbs, legumes, pulses, whole-grains, nuts and seeds!
Dietary Fibre Content List*
(showing amount of fibre in grams in 100 grams)
Spices & herbsCinnamon ground 43g Coriander seed 42g Fennel seed 40g Paprika 37g Cardamom 28gBlack pepper 27g Fenugreek seed 25g Turmeric 21g Nutmeg 21gPoppy seeds 20g Mustard seed 15g Ginger (dry) 13g Cumin 11g Coriander (fresh) 3g Basil 2gGinger (fresh) 2g
Legumes & PulsesLentils 30gKidney beans 25gChickpeas 17gMung beans 16gSplit Mung beans 15g Black beans 15gAdzuki beans 13gTofu 7gMiso 5g
Whole grainsBulgar wheat 18g Barley 17g Buckwheat 10g Kamut 9gOats 9gMillet 8g Quinoa 7g Brown rice 3g White rice 2g Amaranth 2g
Grain & Legume FloursRagi flour 15gChickpea flour (besan) 11gSpelt 11gBuckwheat flour 10gMung flour 5gRice Flour 2g
Nuts & SeedsChia seeds 38g Flaxseed 27gSesame seeds 17g Desiccated coconut 16g Almonds (blanched) 10g Pinenuts 11g Pistachios 10g Sunflower seeds 9g Cashews 3g
FruitsDried figs 10g Dried dates 8g Raisins 7g Avocado 7g Raspberries 6g Blackberries 5g Banana 3g Pears 3g Mangoes 2g Apples 2g Plums 2g Grapes 1g
VeggiesPeas 5gPotato 3gCorn 3g Beans 3g Broccoli 3g Cauliflower 3g Cabbage 3g Carrot 3gKale 2g Asparagus 2g Celery 2g Spinach 2g Pumpkin 1 gMushrooms 1g Zucchini 1g Tomato 1g
NOTE: Amounts relate to fresh, raw products *Source: http://nutritiondata.self.com/
It is important to note that soaking and cooking foods can affect their fibre content, increasing some types of fibre while decreasing others (5). Soluble fibre will dissolve in water while cooking and if you throw that water away, you're throwing the fibre away with it. So one-pot meals and keeping the thickened, gravy-like water you've cooked your legumes and pulses in are the perfect solution to maintaining your fibre content. It is also important to cook your legumes and pulses sufficiently but not to complete and utter mush... and always maintain a little colour and crunch in your veggies.
One of the top six recommendations for increasing your fibre intake on the Harvard Public School of Health's website is "experimenting with international dishes (such as Indian or Middle Eastern) that use whole grains and legumes as part of the main meal (such as Indian dahls)"(6). This was of interest to me because as an Ayurvedic consultant and cook, Indian dahls are one of my staple meals. Even more interesting is the ways in which the Ayurvedic view of disease aligns with the blossoming field of gut biota research.
Ayurveda views our digestive system as a fire that 'cooks' our food. Our digestive fire can be balanced and strong or it can become imbalanced in three ways - too sharp, too dull or too variable. In any of these imbalanced states our food isn't digested or "cooked" properly which leads to the accumulation of undigested food wastes or toxins.
These toxins are usually eliminated but if digestion remains imbalanced for a period of time, they can accumulate in the intestine and eventually "overflow" into the channels of the body where they obstruct the flow of cellular nutrition and waste disposal. As a result, tissue nutrition and formation can become compromised, as can the nourishment of our immune system. This weakened, toxic environment, combined with imbalanced physiological intelligences, is seen as the root cause of all disease in Ayurveda. Not just the diseases mentioned at the top of this article, but
Thus, to promote good health, Ayurveda teaches it is fundamental to promote balanced digestion and a healthy gut environment first and foremost - through the foods we eat, as well as our lifestyle practices.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, the definition of "good diet" is a little more in-depth than simply eating lots of fibre. To promote a balanced digestive fire or a healthy gut environment, meals that are warm, light and slightly oily in quality are recommended. As a starting point the diet is unprocessed, unrefined, preferably organic and seasonal. It is also predominantly vegetarian, predominantly cooked and laden with digestion-promoting herbs and spices. Good quality oils like ghee and coconut oil are used liberally in cooking to help 'fuel' a balanced digestive flame and there is a great emphasis on preparing foods in ways that makes them lighter and easier to digest. For example, nuts are always soaked and roasted; heavy grains are dry roasted; and milk is always brought to the boil with spices like cinnamon, cardamon and cloves.
Being predominantly plant-based with a high consumption of legumes, pulses, veggies, whole grains, herbs, spices, fruits, nuts and seeds, the diet is actually very high in fibre. So it turns out, what is good for your "digestive fire" is also good for your gut bugs - because our gut bugs are a part of our internal cooking process.
So my friends, it's all good news! To improve your health, increasing the fibre in your diet is a simple, doable step. And it doesn't have to be boring - it can be incredibly delicious! If you have no idea where to start, try dabbling in a little Ayurvedic cooking and you can start with the Adzuki bean recipe below. After all, one cup of cooked Adzuki beans contains five times more fibre than a cup of raw carrots!
References:'Catalyst: Gut Reaction Part 1' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w94D45txSxo'Catalyst: Gut Reaction Part 2' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CfDpM9D_if4John Douillard article: http://www.lifespa.com/whats-missing-healthy-diet-... of soaking and cooking on dietary fibre components of different types of chickpea genotypes http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13197-... from: http://nutritiondata.self.com/
Nadia Marshall is an Ayurvedic Consultant, Cook, Health Writer and Managing Director of the Mudita Institute & Health Clinic near Byron Bay. Their 'WARMTH' cookbook is available as a FREE download from their website at: www.muditainstitute.com
Enjoy Nadia' sAdzuki Bean & Pumpkin Curry
Nadia Marshall is an Ayurvedic Consultant, Cook, Health Writer and Managing Director of the Mudita Institute & Health Clinic near Byron Bay. Their ‘WARMTH’ cookbook is available as a FREE download from their website.