The paramount importance of looking after your gut health

It has never been so important to look after your gut health as a recent US study claims that it is likely that a diet of too much sugar and insufficient fibre is leading to an upsurge of colorectal cancer cases in people under the age of 50.

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The impact of insufficient fibre and too much sugar

The reason appears to be that excessive sugar consumption and a lack of dietary fibre can significantly impact good gut bacteria levels, leading to various health issues. Here are the primary effects.

1. Imbalance in gut microbiota

Dysbiosis: High sugar intake can lead to an imbalance in the gut microbiota, known as dysbiosis. This condition is characterised by a reduction in beneficial bacteria and an increase in harmful bacteria. Dysbiosis is linked to numerous health problems, including inflammatory diseases and metabolic disorders.

2. Overgrowth of harmful bacteria

Pathogen proliferation: Sugar acts as a fuel for certain harmful bacteria and yeast, such as Candida albicans. This can lead to their overgrowth, which may cause infections and contribute to gut inflammation.

3. Decreased production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs)

Reduced SCFAs: Dietary fibre is fermented by beneficial gut bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) like butyrate, acetate, and propionate. These SCFAs are crucial for maintaining gut health, reducing inflammation, and supporting the gut barrier function. A lack of fibre means fewer SCFAs, compromising these protective effects.

4. Increased gut inflammation

Inflammatory response: An imbalance in gut bacteria and a reduction in SCFA production can lead to increased gut permeability, also known as "leaky gut." This allows harmful substances to pass through the gut lining into the bloodstream, triggering an immune response and chronic inflammation.

5. Impaired metabolism

Metabolic disorders: Dysbiosis and inflammation can contribute to metabolic disorders, such as obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes. High sugar intake can exacerbate these conditions by causing spikes in blood glucose levels and increasing fat storage.

6. Altered gut-brain axis

Mental health impact: The gut-brain axis is the bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain. Dysbiosis can affect this communication, potentially leading to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. SCFAs play a role in the production of neurotransmitters, and their reduction can negatively impact mental health.


How to maintain a healthy gut microbiome

To maintain a healthy gut microbiome, it's essential to limit sugar intake and ensure adequate dietary fibre consumption, which supports the growth of beneficial bacteria such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and the production of SCFAs. This balance helps protect against inflammation, metabolic disorders, and other health issues associated with gut microbiota imbalance.

Here's a sample one-day menu that is low in sugar and high in fibre to promote gut health and maintain beneficial gut bacteria. This menu includes meals and snacks rich in dietary fibre the daily requirement of fibre for men is 30g for women 25g, with minimal added sugars.

  • Breakfast: Oatmeal with berries and nuts.
  • Optional drink: Herbal tea or black coffee (without added sugar).
  • Mid-morning snack: Apple slices with almond butter.
  • Lunch: Quinoa salad with vegetables and chickpeas.
  • Afternoon snack: Carrot and celery sticks with hummus.
  • Dinner: Baked salmon with sweet potato and broccoli.
  • Dessert: (Optional) Greek yoghurt with flaxseeds and a few berries.

Extra tips for success:

  • Hydration: Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Avoid added sugars: Read labels to avoid foods with added sugars.
  • Fibre-rich foods: Focus on whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds to ensure adequate fibre intake.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Chelmsford CM3 & Romford RM1
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Written by Lisa Mehlman, DipNT, CNM, mNNA | Nutritional and Holistic Therapist
Chelmsford CM3 & Romford RM1

Lisa Mehlman Dip NT CNM mNNA has been a practising nutritional therapist since 2012. She has a particular interest in gut health, weight management and hormonal issues. She now also offers Food Detective a quick pin prick blood test to ascertain food intolerances at her clinic in Little Baddow, Essex. The results are ready within a hour.

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