One of the more amazing medical discoveries of the past few decades has been the vital importance of your gut bacteria.
We all have around 100 trillion various bacteria and viruses living inside our intestines. That’s about ten bacteria for every cell in your body. These 100 trillion bugs consist of up to 1,000 different species.
It sounds gross, but on the whole, it’s a good thing.
This microbiome or ecosystem within our colons is generally beneficial.
Especially when we feed the good critters what they like.
What the Gut Microbiome Does for Us
These bacteria help us digest our food, and they manufacture some of the vitamins and other nutrients we need.
They strengthen our immune systems, so we’re better able to fight off infectious diseases and kill cancer cells before they multiply.
They release so many neurotransmitters, some call the microbiome our second brain.
Some good bacteria increase your level of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) and control triglycerides. And some play a role in keeping insulin resistance low.
Not All Gut Bacteria are Beneficial
Some of the bacteria raise your risk of obesity, digestive problems and even bowel cancer (the third deadliest cancer around the world).
All of us have both good and bad bacteria, so the key is to maintain a healthy balance, called symbiosis, where the bacteria that benefit your health outnumber and dominate the bad guys.
And the best way to do that is to feed the good bugs what they want to eat.
Good Bacteria Thrive on Fiber and Resistant Starch
Fiber comes in two basic kinds: soluble and insoluble.
That means some of the fiber you eat is soluble in water and some of it is not.
Soluble fiber is great for pulling water into your intestine to bulk up your stool. It makes you feel full, so you don’t overeat. It might lower your cholesterol and blood sugar.
Soluble fiber feeds the good gut bacteria in your intestines.
On the other hand, insoluble fiber does not break down in the water. It passes through your colon.
Therefore, insoluble fiber helps prevent constipation and diverticulitis.
Which is Better?
Both. Many sources of fiber contain both kinds, so you’ll eat plenty of both if you eat a lot of different fiber-rich foods. There’s no point to trying to focus on one or the other. It’s like asking whether you should drink water or eat food. You need both.
Starches are simply the complex sugars in such foods as whole grains and potatoes.
Scientists recently discovered that not all the starch you eat gets digested. Some kinds resist digestion, and passes through to your intestines.
Therefore, those are called resistant starches.
We’ve found resistant starch acts as a kind of soluble fiber. It feeds your beneficial bacteria.
Plus, it reduces your appetite by making you feel full, controls insulin resistance and regulates blood sugar levels.
(Insulin resistance leads to weight gain and, eventually, diabetes.)
Where Do You Get Soluble Fiber, Insoluble Fiber and Resistant Starch?
I’ve heard some people believe there’s a lot of fiber in steak, but that’s just wishful thinking. Meat, fish, dairy and eggs contain no fiber whatsoever.
Good sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, apples, strawberries, and beans.
Sources of insoluble fiber include whole wheat and other whole grains, carrots, cabbage, and cauliflower.
Many nuts have both kinds of fiber.
One interesting thing about resistant starch is that it increases when you cook a starchy food (like beans, rice and potatoes), then let it cool down in the refrigerator overnight.
Therefore, the potato in potato salad has more resistant starch than a baked potato you eat hot from the oven.
Oats also have resistant starch, but I wouldn’t want to eat cold or rewarmed oatmeal.
Therefore, your best bet is to cook large quantities of beans, rice, potatoes or pasta made from Hi-maize flour, then store it in the refrigerator and reheat to make your weekly meals.
And eat as many different kinds of whole plant foods as possible, to get plenty of fiber and resistant starch.
Almost Everybody is Fiber-Deficient
It’s estimated 95-97% of Americans do not get the minimum amount of fiber recommended by the American Heart Association – 25-30 grams per day.
And even that is probably not enough for optimal health. The rural Africans studied by Dr. Denis Burkitt in the 1960’s consumed around 100 grams of fiber per day. And they almost never suffered from colon cancer, heart disease, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, obesity or many other chronic diseases that are epidemic in modern America.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate 16% of Americans are constipated. That defines “constipated” as pooping less than three times per week.
To me, that’s extremely low.
If you eat a lot more fiber, you’ll clearly suffer less from constipation and from straining on the toilet.
Just that straining itself can be dangerous. It can cause a stroke. And I have a friend who believes straining while on the toilet caused his inguinal hernia.
But when you feed the ecosystem inside you so it’s full of beneficial bacteria, you’ll poop a lot easier – and you’ll enjoy the many other benefits those bacteria will share with you.