Why You Need to Focus on Fibre: The Forgotten Nutrient

Protein, carbohydrates & fats have received plenty of attention in the health & medical industries over the past 20 years, with Drs & diet gurus telling us to ‘eat less fat’, ‘increase complex carbs’, ‘increase protein’ & then ‘eat more fat’ ‘decrease carbs’ & ‘eat less animal protein’….it’s confusing & exhausting just trying to keep up with research & changing opinions! Many of us health-conscious people now have a substantial collection of conflicting dietary advice books, largely focussed on fat, carbs & protein….but fibre has been quietly sitting in the corner waiting its turn – left out of the equation & only seen as important for constipated folks.

It makes sense – we humans can’t actually digest fibre. It’s obviously not that important to our health if we can’t break it down into anything usable, right?…it’s just good to keep everything moving through the bowel, right?

WRONG! It seems as though fibre will finally start getting the massive attention it deserves, now we’re discovering all the links between our gut microbes & health. Did you know that your fibre intake can influence everything in the list below? And this is just a very basic short list, there are many, many more.  

  • weight loss & body composition
  • cholesterol problems & cardiovascular disease
  • diabetes & metabolic syndrome
  • inflammation in the gut & throughout the body
  • allergies, eczema, asthma & hay fever
  • skin issues
  • mood disorders & mental health
  • energy levels
  • hormone balance
  • Immunity
  • digestion & absorption of nutrients

How Does Fibre Effect Your Gut Health?

The reasons it can help with the above list are complex – but basically, fibre helps to improve your ‘internal ecosystem’ (specifically your gut microbial diversity & abundance). Our gut bugs eat whatever makes it through into the large intestine intact (i.e. fibre), & when they are well fed every day – they do all kinds of great things for us. Our gut is like an internal compost heap, & the rest of our body the garden. When our gut is working well it can generate a lot of goodness to nourish & heal our body, & when it is not working properly – the entire system will struggle. The research on this topic is fascinating, & will completely change the way we look at food, medicine & health over the coming years.

Quick! Get Me Some Fibre, Any Fibre Will Do!!

Not so fast. Before you reach for the ‘All-Bran’, you need to know that DIVERSITY is really important with your fibre intake. 

The old approach of using a single source fibre supplement (i.e. bran, psyllium, inulin etc) may help you to become more regular, but is not optimal to support overall good gut health & microbial balance (which is a foundation of good overall health). You can’t just ‘fix’ a low fibre diet with a few tablespoons of some supplement! It’s like relying on just one type of vegetable for your vitamins & minerals, instead of eating a variety – you’ll miss out on so many nutrients & end up really unbalanced.  

We carry (in our large intestine) many different types / strains of fibre-loving microbes, & they all have different food preferences. Relying heavily on one type of fibre will create an unbalanced population as you overfeed some of these critters, but neglect to feed the rest – so you end up with an overproliferation of the ‘few’ who love & thrive on all-bran, or psyllium, or inulin, or prunes, or whatever – & these guys can take over / over-crowd the gut ecosystem leaving little room for the rest.

The key is to eat plenty of fibre daily, & ensure that you are getting it from loads of different kinds of plants – ie a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, seaweed, herbs & other plant fibre sources with diverse polysaccharides (parts of the plant that we cannot digest in the upper GI tract, but that will become food for our microbes in the bowel). Hint – these are not found in the refined foods that we’ve become accustomed to over the past 50 years!

Refined sugars & starches tip the balance in the wrong way – they support the growth of the bad guys. Not to mention the gut bacterial impact of things like preservatives, artificial sweeteners, emulsifiers etc…these additives may have been ‘tested safe for human consumption’ but unless we know how they are impacting our gut ecosystem – how can we really know their long-term effects? The indirect health impact (through our gut bugs) may in fact be quite significant. The point is – we need to keep our diet as natural as possible, & include a good variety of nutritious plants to keep our gut bugs well fed, & balanced, thus maintaining a thriving internal ecosystem.

Unfortunately, the opposite is generally true. The average westerner eats too many refined carbs, a lot of sugar & poor quality fats, plenty of artificials with very limited fermentable fibre – sourced from only a few different types of unrefined plants (a token daily apple or lettuce & tomato on their lunchtime burger).

This means we are providing copious amounts of simple carbs / sugars to feed the ‘bad guys’, & very little roughage for the good guys in the bowel. As a result, there is precious little fermentation happening in the large intestine, which is one of the absolutely vital keys to good health – fibre is the fermentation material needed by our bowel bugs – they convert complex carbs (from fibrous foods) into SCFA’s (short chain fatty acids), which are potent anti-inflammatory substances & key nutrients for maintaining the health & integrity of the gut lining – among many other things (worth reading up on).

My Own Internal Anti-inflammatory Factory??

Gut bugs + diverse fibre = home-made anti-inflammatories = better health & happiness = yay! When you think about inflammation as a cause / key contributor in almost all modern disease states – it makes really good sense to be feeding our own ‘anti-inflammatory generators’ with diverse fibre, every day, as a priority.

It has even been questioned whether just adding a heap of plant fibre to a junk food diet can somewhat mitigate the damage / inflammation caused by the junk in this way…questioned, but not proven.

When Food Shopping, Think About This…

The less processed our food is, the more likely that it will make it through our stomach & small intestine undigested, which may sound like a bad thing… BUT, it is these undigested fibrous foods that become food for our friendly helper-bugs! I.e. raw veg are better for the bugs than cooked, whole grains better than refined flour… we seem to do best on a combination of really unrefined foods & some more refined / easier to digest stuff, but experts believe the modern diet is much too far towards the ‘easy to digest’ processed end of the spectrum.

Do The Experiment! 

If your gut is not super-sensitive / already out of whack, do an experiment on yourself by increasing your intake of unprocessed plant foods (making sure to focus on diversity), & just see what happens. Go slowly to transition comfortably – increase your intake gradually over time rather than all at once, or you may initially become bloated, gassy, uncomfortable & possibly constipated as your unprepared, unpopulated gut struggles to deal with the sudden influx of fibre. Over a few days / weeks though, your population of bacterial fibre-munchers should increase hugely & become much more healthy & diverse. Take note of how this effects you – look for changes in regularity / gut symptoms, body composition / weight-loss, mood, brain function, skin, immunity, aches & pains…it’s such an easy experiment with massive potential gains! If you feel that there’s no way you can tolerate fibrous foods due to severe gut symptoms – look into the low FODMAP diet. This can help many with IBS / gut issues to uncover the foods that are setting off their pain / bloating / gut symptoms.

Everyone is Different:

Remember that every gut is different, & the high fibre diet that works well for your neighbour might make you feel awful. This can be because you & your neighbour both have different digestive systems & gut bacterial populations. You may have lots of bean-loving bugs, but your neighbour may have very few, so she may feel uncomfortable after a big bowl of high-fibre hommus & celery sticks whereas you can thrive on it. Maybe apricots are ok for your neighbour but give you diarrhoea. Different fibre will have varying effects on different people, & sometimes it’s all in the dose. If you’re not used to a particular food, or way of eating – make changes gradually to ensure a smooth transition, or get some help from a professional to start with. 

So introduce slowly, find out what works for you, & enjoy the whole-body benefits of eating more fibre!

Print out this Bristol Stool Chart and laminate for the toilet door, & leave it there until your kids know exactly what they should be doing (or pooing) each day, & the many reasons they might go off track. You could save them from a heap of pain, stress & money later on in life by teaching them the importance of gut health.

Your visitors will get a good laugh (& possibly an education) too :-)

Click the image to get the free chart.

Bristol Stool Chart
Best Poos Ever

Our Gut = Our Soil

I stumbled upon this article last week & it made me think about the similarities between our gut & our soil – both so critical to support life & both sadly devastated by some of our modern ‘developments’ (things like agricultural chemicals, medications & highly processed foods).

 

Guts & Soil = Both Teeming With Life:

Just as your gut should be teeming with a diverse array of microbes, so should the soil surrounding a plant’s root system. You can think of plant roots & their surrounding microbial ecosystems kinda like ‘inside-out’ human guts.

 

 

Balanced soil = Healthy Plants, Balanced Guts = Healthy Humans:

Humans grow & thrive & experience disease / deficiencies depending on (among other things) what is going on in their gut, & plants grow & thrive (or not) depending (among other things) upon what is going on with their soil. Soil balance = critical to plant health, gut balance = critical to human health.

 

Little Helpers Doing Big Jobs:

Think of the similarities between our intestines with their huge surface area created by the villi & the microvilli (tiny projections that massively increase the surface area of our small intestines) & the branching root system of a plant with its fine root hairs. Both systems are a complex interface between the organism & it’s surrounding environment, & both function with close interaction & support from an amazing microbial ecosystem. Just as our gut microbes are vital for our immune function, chemical messaging around the body & the absorption of many nutrients, the microbes surrounding the roots of plants also play major roles in the function of the roots & how they support the plant. Two mind-blowing natural systems – we’re both extracting nutrition & communicating with what surrounds us, with the help of other tiny creatures that we cannot even see! Did you know that roots actually secrete their own prebiotics!? ’Root exudates’ provide a food source & attract beneficial microbes to live & feed around the plants root system, which in turn does great things for the plant nutritionally! The plant knows it needs microbes – so it provides them with a food source, just like the mucous layer in our gut – which can also feed some of our gut bugs.

 

 

Maybe You Need a Transplant?

We have to actively seek out & make an effort to ingest our required nutrition, whereas the plant just grows roots to absorb what it needs from its surroundings – which is the better design? Well a plant cannot just ‘up & leave’ if the soil environment is not supporting it adequately…but we humans can easily ‘transplant’ ourselves when we’re not thriving – i.e. we can totally change our ‘soil’ & its microbial support system just by changing what is flowing through our gut each day. Our food (& anything else that ends up in our gut) creates the ‘soil’ that supports us. If you have ever observed the change in a plant when you’ve transplanted it from an old pot that it had outgrown, into a freshly composted veggie garden full of nutrients & microbes…you’ll appreciate the difference that a change of soil can make. It’s much the same with humans that are not thriving on their current diet – you have to make some changes to their soil (the food & nutrients flowing through them) & try to get a thriving gut microbial ecosystem happening to help with the absorption of vital nutrients, as well as facilitating clear communication between the external environment & the immune system. The ‘ultimate’ in repotting / soil refreshing for an unhealthy human gut is an FMT (faecal microbe transplant), where they basically empty out all of your crappy dysfunctional ‘soil’, & replace it with some fresh ‘soil’ (someone else’s poo, squirted straight into your bowel, along with all the friendly & balanced microbes). Sounds pretty gross, but the results can be incredible (with a caution that we can also create new problems that we’re not even fully aware of yet). When you consider all the functions of our gut microbiome – the potential for this type of ‘transplant’ therapy to both help cure & cause health issues is huge. Understandably, researchers are proceeding with caution.

 

Gut & Garden Rehabilitation:

When rehabilitating your garden or your gut, you may need to do the following:

  • remove any nasty weeds that have taken over, being mindful that some seeds will always remain & maintenance will be required to prevent them from growing back to dominate the area. (Think about a detrimental overgrowth of parasites, fungi, nasty bacteria etc in our guts – we may need to ‘weed’ the gut garden with some anti-microbial / anti-fungal / anti-parasitic herbs & supplements & a restrictive diet as part of the gut rehab process).
  • bring in some healthy new soil ingredients! In humans we need to change what is being swallowed daily, this is one of the major contributors to achieving soil (gut) health. Think mainly about food, but also about medications, environmental chemicals, supplements, hydration…even hormones & emotions…everything that ‘flows through you’ contributes to (or takes away from) your soil health. Really important to stop feeding those nasty microbes what they love (usually sugars & refined starches for the baddies). Feed the goodies so they populate quickly & crowd out the baddies, just like we can plant & nurture a lovely ground cover to stop unwanted weeds from growing back. Our good bugs love fibre & resistant starch, feed them plenty so they’ll grow & take up all the space & resources, leaving none for the baddies / gut weeds!
  • reinoculate & support with some microbial reinforcements. In a garden you can add some microbe-rich compost & manure. You can add mulch to stabilise moisture & temperature / slow down the growth of unwanted weeds / create a safe haven for beneficial creatures that are part of the soil ecosystem. Mulch will also eventually act as a food source that can be broken down & converted by creatures into more organic matter for the soil & it’s microbes. Adding compost & mulch to a garden is just like a human adding plenty of organic, fibrous plant foods & some fermented foods into their diet. What a difference it can make, getting that internal soil to start ‘teeming’ with microbes again, like an internal compost system that keeps cranking out awesome ‘compost’ (or healthy poos).
  • daily intake of diverse fibre = a continuous stream of food to support a wide range of good gut bugs. Without adequate fibre, some of our gut bugs actually start eating away at our protective mucous lining to survive, not a nice thought!
  • water that garden: Your internal soil will dry up & your gut bugs will shrivel if you’re not well hydrated – just like a plant cannot survive & thrive without the moisture required to help it absorb nutrients from the soil & keep it’s microbial helpers comfortable.
  • keep the chemicals out. Chemicals flowing through your gut will mess with the ‘soil’ ecology, just as chemicals sprayed continually into a forest can seriously damage the ecosystem. Eat as much as you can organic, & avoid unnecessary medications / ask your Dr what you can eliminate (or find a functional / integrative GP / naturopath to work with you to minimise your intake of pharmaceuticals).

…& remember it’s not only the vitamins & minerals etc that plants contain – it’s also their hormones & chemical messengers that can actually interact with our systems too. Interesting read…

Love to read your comments that you can add below or send me any email anytime.

Jeanie Xx
jeanie@goodmix.com.au

Hiding Veggies! Handy Tips for Fussy Eaters

With so many cheap processed foods trying to sabotage our shopping trolleys, the constant role of us parents is to find new ways to sneak healthy foods (particularly veggies) into our family’s food! Some kids are super-fussy, & it seems all they want to eat is sausages, chips & crackers! I don’t advise you to ‘just let them grow out of it’, as in my experience – kids who are allowed to get away with eating just sausages & chips as kids often continue to do so, & they don’t get used to the tastes & textures of vegetables & salads the way kids who are brought up on them daily do. You either do the introductory work when your kids are young, or they will pay the price for it later with ongoing fussiness, nutrient deficiencies & the health issues that arise from them. Getting veggies in can be hard work at times, but it will pay off – & there are many ways to sneak things in / introduce gradually so it’s not too scary!

It’s not only the kids who experience trouble with eating their veggies, I actually speak to quite a few adults who are definitely old enough to realise that they should be eating more veggies, but still really struggle with textures / tastes & do not eat very many at all! Because they find it so difficult to eat veggies themselves – they’re unable to enforce good vegetable-eating habits in the kids, so the issue gets passed down & compounded!

Here’s a few easy & inexpensive dishes, perfect for getting more veggies into the ‘average Aussie family’ diet. You’ll notice most of these dinners use mince as a base – reason is it’s inexpensive & kids are generally pretty good with it, plus it’s an easy texture that allows you to hide a lot of veg in it. You can experiment with beef, chicken, lamb, kangaroo or pork. Make it free range & grass fed wherever you possibly can (ask your butcher or farmer at the markets!) I ethically agree with & have experimented myself with both a vegetarian & vegan diet in the past, but I do feel that for rapidly growing kids, some animal protein & fats are important & very useful nutritionally. Just look for & support the producers who operate on a small scale & treat their animals with more care, & incorporate loads of veggies & plant foods in so that meat isn’t playing the starring dietary role, but is there in smaller quantities to supply the nutritional bits that plants don’t cover.

Meatballs / Patties

Better option for BBQ’s than the kid-favourite sausages, as you can pack them full of veggies! The secret is to chop everything really finely, or use a processor / blender. Into your mince you can add add onion, garlic, fresh herbs (i.e. basil, oregano, chives, rosemary, mint, curry plant), carrot, celery, mushroom, capsicum, zucchini. Just watch the water content with the wetter veggies (you may need to squeeze the water out of grated zucchini  for example). I generally add in something absorbent like chia meal or chia flour (ask in your health store) to help bind the patties & soak up any excess moisture from the tonne of veggies. You can also add in some seaweed flakes (i.e. dulse or kelp) to sneakily boost nutrition, salt & pepper & some dried herbs & spices like cumin, thyme or sage.

Bolognaise

A quick & easy option for most families – yet there is a big nutritional difference between the average ‘pasta-meat-sauce’ spaghetti bol & a veggie packed healthy version! To maximise your veg intake, start with onion, garlic & mushroom (all finely chopped). Fry these & then add finely chopped celery, carrot, capsicum, zucchini, & even beetroot. Add in some leafy greens, seaweed flakes, herbs (basil, oregano, rosemary all work well), & then mix all of this into your cooked mince, along with some plain chopped tomatoes or tomato sauce (I use molasses as a mineral-rich sweetener / flavour booster & salt & pepper). I’ll often just eat this without the pasta, but the kids miss it! You can use GF pasta or even some ‘courgette’ / spiralled zucchini noodles. Serve with some simple raw greens or a salad, & some grated cheese to top if desired.

Lasagne

Same veggies as the bolognaise. Chopped finely – this is just the bolognaise brew arranged with layers of sauce / cheese / pasta! You can use GF sheets or finely sliced pumpkin as the ‘pasta’ layers too.

Shepherd’s Pie

All of the same bolognaise veggies will work here too, & you can incorporate some sneaky tinned asparagus into the sauce (blend it in), & throw in some frozen peas. I often use a mix of cauliflower or sweet potato in with the mashed potato topping, & you can throw some green / brown lentils into the mince part – or even use these instead of the meat. You can use things like salt & pepper, tomato paste, mustard, molasses & herbs / spices / natural sauces to make it flavoursome.

Mexican

Great crowd-pleaser to introduce some legumes! Soak some black beans overnight, then rinse & drain them before boiling until soft. Or you can use canned if you’re not good at planning! I use a combo of whole beans & some of the canned refried beans. These can be added in after you’ve cooked up the rest of the mix, which can be your meat (if using, you can easily make a great vego mexican brew with just the beans & veg) plus finely chopped onion, garlic, celery, carrot, broccoli / cauliflower, zucchini…whatever. You can use molasses as a sweetener, plus salt, pepper, cumin, turmeric (not too much or it gets bitter) & coriander to make it taste ‘Mexican’! Serve with guacamole (mashed avo with lemon / lime juice, salt, pepper & garlic) & fresh coriander / shallots on top.

Rice Paper Wraps

Onion & garlic, add in some ginger for the Asian flavour, or whatever Asian style paste / herbs you like – i.e. coriander, basil, mint, lime juice, tamari…just fry the mince with the garlic / ginger / spices / paste, add finely chopped veggies / herbs, & have some others raw & grated on the table when you serve up. You can have several bowls for different people to choose their own additions, & some dipping sauce. Or instead of Asian style, try a rosemary & garlic lamb mince with yoghurt, mint & cucumber dressing. You can find the wraps in the asian section of the supermarket, & you just need to dip them into hot water to make them soft enough to wrap (requires a little practice, small children will need help making theirs).

Wedges

A great winter hot veggie snack. Sweet potato & potato, homemade & oven baked. You can coat in some tapioca starch & spices to get them really crispy / crunchy. Cook in macadamia or coconut oil, & serve with yummy dips (see below!)

Dips

You can hide a lot of veggies (& probiotic yoghurt / healthy olive oil) in dips. Cooked sweet potato & pumpkin, cucumber, herbs, avocado, semi dried tomato, beetroot, olives etc – & we think of dips as party or snack food, so tend not to be on the lookout for veggies! Google veggie dips or any of the above-mentioned veggies with dip & you’ll find recipes. Also – they are nice & smooth, & generally there are crackers to be had with them – so veggie dips can be a winner for veggie-shy people! 

Wraps

You can find some half-decent GF wraps in the supermarkets now. Bundle up a heap of healthy fillings with some kind of yummy dressing. Meat / cheese – whatever other fillings you / the kids like, to go with the veggies. Think avocado, hommous etc. 

Omelettes

Mushroom, tomato, onion, herbs like rosemary, parsley & thyme, baby spinach & shredded kale…just start of with a few teeny tiny bits & you can increase as they get used to the ‘bits’.

Quiches

Same as omelettes – start with a few bits & increase as they get used to the new tastes / textures.

Pies

You can add some veggies chunk style, & some hidden, finely blended into the pie ‘sauce’. Top pies with mashed & seasoned veggies.

Coleslaw

This can be a good one as most veggie-fussy types like mayonnaise / creamy dressings. You can make a basic coleslaw with just shredded cabbage & carrot, or add in shallots / raw onion, celery, kale, capsicum, grated beetroot, parsley etc. Kids usually like a little grated cheese in there too.

Beetroot Salad

Use the fine holes on your grater, to grate a large raw beetroot with 2 medium carrots. ‘Dress’ with some fresh grated / juiced pineapple & / or orange, & add in some desiccated coconut & currants if desired. Amazing sweet & juicy side salad that many kids & adults like, & a great way to introduce raw beetroot to those who’ve never tried it.

Potato Salad

I like to add boiled eggs into potato salad to balance the carbs with some protein / fats. You can add finely chopped shallots / chives, raw onion, parsley, celery, frozen peas….potato salad is great for resistant starch (the carbs turn into this when cooked & cooled down). Resistant starch is good food for your gut bacteria.

Fried Rice

You can use quinoa too (or a mixture) & use leftover meats or veggies in here. I use shredded fried eggs, free range nitrate free bacon, or chicken leftovers, onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric, shallots, carrot, corn, frozen peas, capsicum, broccoli, cauliflower (chopped up into tiny bits). 

Mash

You can sneak cauliflower into your mashed potato, use lots of butter & salt & pepper to flavour, & garlic, chives or parsley are also yum in mash. You can add cooked broccoli & carrots into sweet potato / pumpkin mash…mash makes textures less of an issue so you may have luck with some different veggies incorporated in this way.

Pesto

Herbs are super-nutritious like veggies (often even more so) but can be expensive. It’s great to grow a few in the garden / pots. You can make amazing fresh pesto using basil & baby spinach, parmesan, olive oil, salt & pepper, lemon juice & garlic. This pesto can also be used to flavour other veggies. It goes great with roasted sweet potato chunks, or in a salad.

Spinach & Feta Pies

Kids love greens hidden in cheese! Most people love mini spinach & feta pies. Use a cupcake / muffin tray to bake a heap of these – great way to get some greens & protein in if dairy is well tolerated. Basil is awesome in these.

Platters / Finger Food

Olives, carrot, celery, capsicum, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, snow peas, sugar snaps, beans….you can make great healthy platters using veggies. Just combine with things you already like i.e. cheeses, nuts, crackers, dips etc. Finger food / platters are very kid-friendly & they’ll be able to experiment carefully with a little encouragement.

Green Smoothies

Pineapple / banana / papaw / mango / kiwi / apple / pear etc can be the ‘sweetness’ to make a glass full of raw green veggies yummier! Celery tops, cucumber, baby spinach, kale etc can all be blended up into drinks – many people find drinking their veggies is actually easier than eating them!

Red Smoothies

You can make an amazing, vibrant red smoothie using raspberries, watermelon, dragon fruit & beetroot. This is just cool for kids because it is SOO bright red. Pink grapefruit & ginger are nice flavours in this too.

Juices

Some people can’t handle the thick, fibrous texture of smoothies with veggies in them. Juice can be a great way to get used to the different veggie tastes, without having to deal with the textures at the same time! Try small amounts of spinach, kale, cucumber, carrot, beetroot, ginger, turmeric etc – using familiar things like apple, mandarin, pineapple & orange to sweeten / mask.

Cakes

You can make quite a few cool cakes with veggies win them. The obvious one is carrot cake, but google chocolate beetroot or zucchini cake, black bean brownies…you can actually sneak veggies into cakes & sweet treats!

Raw Carrot Cake
Bristol Stool Chart
Best Poos Ever

Place this handy chart up on your toilet door and teach everyone who sits on your loo about a healthy gut / poo and may even show the direct effect of eating more veggies: Bristol Stool Chart – free download

I hope you find some of these tips useful, & I’d love to know your thoughts, struggles or even your own tips! Just leave a comment below or send me an email !

Jeanie Xx
jeanie@goodmix.com.au