We are what we eat. Everything that makes up our body and the energy it needs to function comes from what we consume. This means that if you make a conscious effort to eat as well as possible, you’re on the right track for good health. Those foods that are high in salt and sugar, as well as alcohol, are best kept for special occasions – not enjoyed every day.
As you will become aware during this challenge, the gastrointestinal (GI) tract or gut is where the body breaks down and absorbs the nutrients it requires, and fibre is crucial in making sure the gut environment (microbes) is well fed and protected. If the gut functions well, the entire body benefits. However, the body requires a wide range of nutrients to be healthy, and the gut can’t extract those nutrients if they’re not in our food. That’s why we need to continually eat a balanced diet to ensure an optimal supply of nutrients – for the benefit of our gut and our body.
Why eating for gut health is so important
Your gut lining is the barrier between food, toxins and microbes on one side, and the rest of the body on the other. This barrier needs to be maintained to protect our tissues and prevent infection and inflammation. Good food hygiene practices can help prevent pathogenic bacteria from entering the gut and causing diarrhoea and other symptoms of food poisoning. A healthy balanced diet also helps maintain the gut barrier function. The continual consumption of a poor diet, such as western-style diets characterised by high fat and protein levels but lacking in dietary fibre, often leads to a breakdown of gut barrier integrity.
A so-called leaky gut can result in persistent low-level inflammation as the immune system works against microbes breaching the barrier.
Gut discomfort in the form of bloating, excess gas production, constipation and pain, can seriously affect your quality of life. Maintaining a diet that includes a diversity of fibre-rich foods will promote good gut function and help reduce gut discomfort. However, too much fibre can also cause discomfort, especially if dietary levels increase sharply.
Prioritising long-term health
One of the most important reasons for maintaining a lifelong gut-healthy diet – especially a fibre-sufficient diet – is to protect against colorectal cancer (CRC). While many factors contribute to CRC, diet plays a critical role and lack of dietary fibre is the single biggest risk factor. CRC can take decades to develop, a process generally assisted by less-than-ideal diets and lifestyles. Dietary fibre helps to reduce the impact of toxins we are regularly exposed to that can damage the gut tissues, including their DNA, and which can contribute to CRC. Dietary fibre does this by diluting toxins via increasing the digested food bulk and by promoting regular movement along the gut. Another important feature of many fibres is their ability to be fermented by gut bacteria, especially in the colon. This results in the production of substances needed by the colonic tissues, and which maintain their health.
Finally, the long-term consumption of a variety of foods, particularly those high in dietary fibres, will help maintain a vibrant and diverse population of beneficial bacteria within the large bowel. Benefits include bacterial production of a wide range of compounds that promote the health of the gut, other bodily tissues and the immune system, as well as a greater capacity to prevent the growth of pathogenic bacteria. For this reason, there’s no harm in continuing with the high-fibre diet you’re sticking to now. In fact, it’s highly recommended for the health of your gut today and your long-term health in the future.