Sometimes the old sayings have truth to them. Apples and other whole plant foods contain fiber and other compounds that help keep us healthy. Fiber is only in plants; you won’t find it in meats. Eating more plants and fiber promotes our immune system and lower body weight through gut health. Overall, eating whole foods like vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, and nuts/seeds has been shown to lower risk for heart disease, diabetes, some cancers and lead to a longer life. So, what does our gut have to do with this?
Fiber and phytonutrients (pigments that color plants) are natural ingredients in plants. These compounds are nature’s detox providing food for the gut as well as anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that keep our bodies running smoothly toward health.
Our gut contains the microbiome, which is the trillions of microbes living in our colons. Trillions of bacteria, yeast, viruses in our colon! Sounds scary? Not at all, we need healthy-microbes to live. The trouble comes when problem-microbes that make us ill take over the healthy-microbes. What you eat matters to feed the healthy-microbes and get rid of the problem ones. Fiber and Phytonutrients feed the healthy-microbes. The other end of the eating spectrum is the Standard American Diet (SAD) which is high in sodium, saturated fat, and low in fiber. The SAD starves the healthy-microbes and feeds the problem-microbes which can make us sick.
So scientists are looking to manage health through the microbiome. Think of the microbiome as a whole community of microbes living in your colon. The microbes interact with each other and us through our gut, immune system, and brain. We interact with the microbiome too. The microbiome community is now described as an ‘organ’, just like your heart and liver, it is crucial to your health.
A healthy microbiome helps you out by:
- Training your immune system
- keeping out harmful bacteria
- reducing inflammation
- Feeding your body: fuels intestine cells and makes vitamins for you
Moreover, a healthy community of gut microbes promotes lower body weight, lower disease risk for diabetes and heart disease. The gut and brain are so connected, the gut is often called the ‘second brain’ and likely even affects mood and sleep.
So healthy microbes help us out in many ways. They feed you, but in return, you need to feed them. The microbes help us, and we in turn help them. It is a win-win relationship with a healthy community.
Turns out, the healthy-microbes like to eat fiber and phytonutrients from plants like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds. And it is not like they can order take-out if you are eating a SAD diet (salty, high fat low fiber foods) leaving them with little to eat. Do you want to stay healthy? Feed yourself and your microbiome well.
Immunity & Inflammation
Our bodies work very hard to keep any toxins we ingest or toxins made by problem-microbes, out of our bloodstream through the gut barrier. Some fiber types known as prebiotics are fermented by the microbes in our intestines. This fermentation helps to maintain our gut barrier keeping inflammatory toxins and harmful bacteria out of the blood. Fermentation also reduces the problem-bacteria making toxins. And some fibers can also directly inhibit problem-microbes. So keep your gut intact with adequate fiber intake. Eat a variety of foods with fiber to maximize benefits.
Microbes interact with our immune cells but the exact mechanism is still unknown. Studies do show increases in our immune cells with a healthy microbiome and beneficial changes in the microbiome when starting to eat a healthy plant-based diet.
People have different microbiomes. The microbiomes of overweight people are different from leaner ones. Those who lose weight, change their microbiomes to look more like leaner people. So changing your microbiome may help with maintaining lower body weight. We can’t say just yet which microbes specifically promote lower weights but we can feed the healthy microbes fibers to promote their growth toward a healthy-microbiome.
People with higher fiber intakes consistently weigh less than those on lower fiber diets. Studies show that higher fiber intake reduces appetite by bulking the stomach and triggering eating satisfaction and completion. You stop eating earlier and eat fewer calories. Neural and hormonal signals are changed as well, which can help lower calorie intake. One study showed that increased fiber intake promotes weight loss of over half a pound for every 1 gram fiber increase. Not bad for a small dietary change.
Other studies show that adding 14 grams of fiber per day resulted in a 10% decrease in energy intake and loss of about 4.5 pounds within four months. Focus on the fiber and lose weight.
People who eat high fiber diets live longer. A study published in 2019 showed people on high fiber diets had up to 30% lower risk for all causes of deaths. So, eating whole foods; grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and seeds cuts your risk of death by up to a third! Go eat a plant. As Dr. Michael Greger says, “The road to good health is paved with good intestines.” (How Not To Diet, 2019)
Introducing: The Healthy Eating Fix: Real Science Info Translated into Practical Actions.
Learn more about weight loss, healthy eating, and the gut microbiome at Comprehensive Primary Care online zoom classes this fall. Get evidence-based practical solutions for healthy eating: reduce risks of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers and promote weight loss. This is nutrition help you can live with. Taught by Registered dietitian/nutritionist Diane Darcy.
Call 301-869-9776 to save your spot in the class.
Appointments are available with Diane for more personalized approaches as needed through Comprehensive Primary Care. Call 301-869-9776 to schedule your appointment. Most insurance is accepted.