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How can wealthy Western countries reduce the number of people living with allergies, obesity, heart disease and other chronic conditions? Simple: Eat more fibre and regenerate the population of microbes in your gut.
By
Yasmin Noone

13 Apr 2016 - 7:56 AM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2016 - 7:56 AM

People living in western countries like Australia should follow the example of those in developing nations and consume more fibre on a daily basis to promote good gut bacteria and relieve the damage caused by a diet rich in fat and starch, international scientists claim.

Canadian researchers from the University of Alberta have used an editorial, published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, to call upon all industrialised societies to better promote an increase in the daily intake of dietary fibre so that our gut microbiome (the population of microbes in the intestine) can recover from the sugary and fatty nasties we regularly consume.

The paper’s authors believe that if westernised individuals regained the microbial biodiversity once present in our guts, they could successfully reduce the incidence of allergies, obesity, colon cancer and heart disease.

“The depletion of the gut microbiome might well be one of the 21st century challenges to modern society, as it is likely to contribute to growing disease pandemics, with clear implications for public health, clinical practices, and human nutrition,” the paper’s two authors write.

Recent research has pointed to the fact that low-fibre Western diets could be depleting our gut microbiome.

Although the idea to boost fibre levels is not new, recent research has pointed to the fact that low-fibre Western diets could be depleting our gut microbiome.

“Given that the gut microbiome is very important for health, a depletion of its composition due to us starving our microbome is, in our opinion, very concerning,” paper co-author, Associate Professor Jens Walter of the University of Alberta tells SBS Life.

He explains that fibre consumption fuels the growth of good bacteria in our intestine. These bacteria are then fermented to become metabolic products, which are beneficial to our immunological and metabolic functions.

Fibre also helps to maintain the diversity of the gut’s microbiota and prevents bacteria from depleting the mucus layer in our guts.

The Dietitians Association of Australia recommends Australians eat at least 25 to 30g fibre each day to reduce the risk of disease and promote a healthy digestive system.

It also advises individuals to eat more fibre-containing foods including breads and cereals, fruits, vegetables, dried beans and lentils each day.

But according to the paper’s authors, most people living in industrialised nations consume less than 20 grams of fibre per day, while adults in developing nations consume an average of around 50 grams of fibre a day. Our ancestors are considered to have consumed 100-200 gram of fibre every day.

Most people living in industrialised nations consume less than 20 grams of fibre per day, while adults in developing nations consume an average of around 50 grams of fibre a day.

Research also suggests that the traditional Australian Aboriginal diet, based on plant foods, would have been relatively low in carbohydrates but high in dietary fibre. The low glycaemic index of foods would have carried a protective effect from a genetic predisposition to insulin resistance and its related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.

A/Prof Walters believes that if our diets were similar to those of our ancestors and people in developing countries, our gut bacteria would have enough fuel to support our immune systems and lower our risk of chronic conditions.

“We argue that dietary advice alone will not do it,” explains the Campus Alberta Innovation Program (CAIP) Chair for Nutrition, Microbes and Gastrointestinal Health.

This is why the authors propose that specific food products like white bread be enriched with fibre to boost daily consumption levels.

“Fiber supplementation of white flour and white flour-rich food products, which are ‘overused’ and the dominant component of the Western diet, therefore constitute an untapped opportunity to considerably increase dietary fiber consumption,” the paper states.

The scientists add that researchers, food producers, policy makers, and regulatory groups must pay a greater significance to the role of our gut bacteria and take action, via the creation of nutrition and food policies, to restore the composition and function of the gut microbiome.

“[It] will require a society-wide effort and essentially a transformation of human nutrition away from a discipline that focuses merely on meeting the nutritional needs of the human host to one that is concerned with also nourishing the symbiotic microbial communities that are so essential in health.”

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