These are the key ingredients for a thriving microbiome
With the rise of the ketogenic diet comes the decline of fibres essential for a thriving microbiome in our digestive system. Are you feeling the resistance against starch? In France, I’m sure they’d call it Le starch de résistance.
If you’re cutting out carbohydrates to make way for fat loss, I urge you to reconsider. Carbohydrates, particularly fibre, resistant starches and prebiotic-rich foods, are essential for optimising the health of your digestive system.
One of the best ways to support a thriving gut microbiome is to feed it. Just like teeny weeny, microscopic babies with wide open mouths, your gut microbes await your feeding and, just like humans, they can be fed junk, or they can be fed with the foods they were created to thrive on: prebiotics. Prebiotics are special carbohydrate molecules non-digestible by humans. They survive in your digestive tract and keep your colon intact before selectively feeding specific strains of bacteria.
There are three classifications of prebiotics: non-starch polysaccharides such as inulin and fructooligosaccharide, soluble fibre including psyllium and acacia fibres and, lastly, resistant starch.
Resistant starch is a type of starch that isn’t digested in the stomach or small intestine, but reaches the colon having “resisted” digestion. There are four different types of resistant starch:
- Resistant starch type 1 is found in grains, seeds and legumes where the fibre is bound up in the fibrous cell walls of the plants.
- Resistant starch type 2 is starch with high amylose content. This is indigestible in its raw state. It includes potatoes, green bananas and plantains, in which when cooked the resistant starch is removed and the food becomes digestible to humans. This also includes plantain and green banana flour which is now more readily available in supermarkets.
- Resistant starch type 3 forms when type 1 or type 2 is cooked and then cooled below 54°C. Heating these foods back up to high temperatures will convert the starch into the digestible form, which will not last to feed the bacteria in the colon. Examples include cooked and cooled lentils, cooked and cooled potatoes or cooked and cooled rice.
- Resistant starch type 4 is the synthetic form of resistant starch which includes Hi-maize resistant starch, which is not recommended. This is one particular ingredient that sends my gut into summersaulting spiral curls! Hi-maize resistant starch can be found in a growing group of commercial products such as bread, pasta and snack bars.
The first three types of resistant starch are your friends and consuming them will allow your good microbes to “feed” on resistant starch and produce short-chain fatty acids through fermentation. The most significant of these are acetate, butyrate and propionate. Butyrate is of special importance due to its beneficial effects on the colon and overall health, entering the bloodstream through the colon and having an anti-inflammatory effect on the body, as well as decreasing intestinal permeability and the effects of leaky gut.
Starchy root vegetables like sweet potato, yams, jicama, yacón, turnips, parsnips and squash are easy to digest and cleansing for the body.
Now, let’s chat fibre. While we all know we need fibre to help with trips to the bathroom, a lot of us aren’t consuming a sufficient amount. As a population, we require approximately 30g of fibre per day; the majority of humans aren’t receiving that much.
Dietary fibre consumption, as well as carbohydrates, can protect against non-communicable diseases and reduce weight gain. According to the World Health Organization, non-communicable diseases known as chronic diseases can be categorised into four subtypes: cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and diabetes. The low content of fibre in the modern diet may be a contributing factor towards the development of these diet-related chronic conditions.
A diet high in fibre can help reshape the microbiome, creating an abundance of microbial species that reduce blood sugar. This means that a high-fibre diet may be able to prevent and treat diabetes. Foods rich in fibre include whole grains, vegetables, fruit and pulses. Starchy root vegetables like sweet potato, yams, jicama, yacón, turnips, parsnips and squash are easy to digest and cleansing for the body. They contain fibre and nutrients, meaning that they help keep you satiated. While these vegetables tend to be sweet in taste, they have a low level of natural sugar and a low glycaemic index level. Foods with a low glycaemic index are less likely to cause an increase in blood sugar levels.
Foods high in resistant starch include oats, rice, whole grains, legumes and potatoes. While cooking and heating foods can kill off resistant starch, you can reignite its life by consuming them after you’ve let them cool. To optimise their benefits, cook them and then enjoy them cooled.
A diet high in fibre can help reshape the microbiome, creating an abundance of microbial species that reduce blood sugar.
Another fabulous source of resistant starch is green bananas, found in banana flour. This resistant-starch-rich food increases our friendly gut bacteria, reducing inflammation and decreasing our “bad” gut bacteria. It also acts as a brilliant flour replacement. If you’re looking for a scrumptious way to include more resistant starch in your life, I’ve got just the recipe for you.
These banana flour pancakes from my book Supercharge Your Gut are oh-so-hard to resist. Packed full of banana flour and other goodies, they’re just what the resistant-starch doctor ordered!
Banana Flour Pancakes
1 tbsp extra-virgin coconut oil, plus extra for greasing
½ cup green banana or plantain flour
3 free-range eggs
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp alcohol-free vanilla extract or vanilla powder
½ tsp Celtic sea salt
½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp raw honey or rice-malt syrup or 6 drops of liquid stevia (optional)
¼ cup non-dairy milk of choice
Combine all pancake ingredients in a large mixing bowl. The batter should be thick, but pourable; add extra milk if it’s too thick. Allow the batter to rest for a few mins.
Melt coconut oil in a frying pan over medium–high heat.
Add about ¼ cup of the batter to the pan. Cook on each side for about 2 mins, or until browned. Transfer to a warm plate and keep warm while cooking the remaining batter.
Stack the pancakes high and serve warm with your favourite toppings.
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