Fibre, gut health & diabetes
Friday, 29 June 2018
Written by Caitlin Jamieson, Accredited Practising Dietitian
It’s no secret that fibre helps “keep you regular,” and if you’ve attended one of our nutrition workshops, you might also know some of the ways that fibre can help your diabetes. What you might not know, is the effect that fibre has on our gut health. Gut health is making lots of headlines at the moment and unlike a lot of fads, there is actually some good evidence behind this hot topic!
What does “gut health” actually mean?
Did you know there are trillions of microorganisms or “bugs,” living on and inside the human body?! In fact, there are several “communities” of bugs throughout the body, including a community of bugs on our skin and another collection of bugs in our mouths. The collection of bugs in our gut however, is the largest and most diverse of these communities. Some of these gut bugs work in harmony with the body, whilst others can do us harm. A lot of different factors influence the balance between the good and bad bugs, including our environment and what eat. Scientists are only just beginning to understand these bugs and the ways they can influence health, but they have been linked to digestion, metabolism and the immune system just to name a few!
Are everyone’s gut bugs the same?
No! The amounts and types of different bugs found in the gut varies a lot from person to person. Factors such as medications, disease conditions and the food we eat can also change the balance of gut bugs within a matter of days.
So how do we improve the balance of bugs in our gut? One of the most important factors that impacts gut health is dietary fibre. Certain types of fibre act as a food source for the good gut bugs, helping them to grow and thrive. These types of fibre are often called fermentable fibre or prebiotics. They are found in a range of foods including some fruits (for example, apples and citrus fruits), wholegrains (such as oats and barley), legumes, along with cooked and cooled starchy foods like rice and potato. Aiming to get a wide variety of plant foods can help to feed all the different types of gut bugs- even our gut bugs have different taste preferences!
It’s recommended that adults get 25-30g (25g for women; 30g for men) of fibre each day. Unfortunately though, the average Australian isn’t eating enough vegetables, legumes, fruits or wholegrains, which are our main sources of fibre. You can see how many serves are recommended of these food groups for your age and gender using the nutrition calculators on the Eat for Health website.
Fibre & diabetes
Some prebiotic fibres swell up to form a gel in the gut. This gel slows how quickly our food is digested and traps glucose (sugar) and cholesterol molecules. This in turn helps manage cholesterol levels, slows down the release of glucose into the blood and lowers the glycaemic index of foods. This is particularly helpful for people living with diabetes, since lower GI foods can help improve insulin resistance and reduce Hba1c by 0.5%1.
It’s important to remember that healthy high-fibre foods often contain carbohydrates, so portion size is still important when it comes to managing blood glucose levels!
What about probiotics?
So far we’ve talked about prebiotics, but you might be wondering what exactly are probiotics? Probiotics are live bugs found in some fermented foods (such as yoghurt and sauerkraut) and formulated probiotic supplements, which may impact the balance of bugs in our gut when ingested. Simply taking a broad-spectrum probiotic doesn’t appear to give many health benefits, but taking the right dose and type of probiotics may help with certain conditions. As with any new supplement, it’s important to speak with your doctor or dietitian to find out what’s best for your individual needs.
All-in-all, the most sure-fire way to boost your gut health is to feed up those gut bugs with lots of prebiotic fibre and get a wide variety of fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains by following the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.
For more information, download the Diabetes Qualified gut health factsheet!