Over time our digestive system builds up the bacteria it needs to deal with the food we normally eat. But among the useful bacteria, there are millions of unhelpful ones too. Here we look at how to build up the good while reducing the bad and gaining that healthy edge.
Within our stomachs, or more specifically the colon, there are over 500 bacterial species. However, that number pales into insignificance if you count the number of cells in our bodies, they are outnumbered by the number of cells in our gut by 20:1.
The good bacteria in our digestive system are used to break down the food that we eat, so that our bodies can use it in more useful ways. For instance, when the good bacteria break down the carbohydrates they can provide up to 10% of our daily energy.For low-carbers like us, of course, there is the advantage that even though we are eating lower amounts of carbohydrates we still require almost the same amount of energy. That means that our bodies have to get that energy from elsewhere. And we all know that the best place to get that is by starting to break down the fat stored in our body.
However, that does not mean that you should neglect the good bacteria in your stomach, as they also help the body to fight infection and diseases by overcoming the effects of the bad bacteria that can also take up residence in our gut.The are two schools of thought as to which is the best way to do this.
- Top up our existing good bacteria by eating some more of the same from some other origin – Pro-biotics. (remember ‘O’ for other origin)
- Eat foods that encourage the right conditions for good bacteria to thrive – Pre-boitics. (remember ‘E’ for eating)
The Reading University Trial
Under the auspices of the University of Reading, food bioscientist, Gemma Walton PhD, came up with a study where she would take 8 hard working men, put half of them on pro-biotics (cultures containing the good bacteria which we find in foods such as yoghurt). The other half were put on a pre-biotic diet (the pre-biotics in this case coming from things like vegetables, leeks, bananas and other foods which make the environment in the stomach a much nicer place to be for the bacteria that are already there).The only down-side to this test, and I’m glad I wasn’t doing it, was that the two groups had to be checked daily for changes in the bacteria. Well, I’ll spare you the unhealthy details, but suffice to say, our hard working guys “pooh” showed remarkable differences between the two groups!!The consensus of opinion, from this and other tests that have been made, is that over a longer period the probiotics will show more of a difference. But that difference will not be as profound compaired with a pre-biotic diet.
What needs to be remembered here, is that no matter how many pro-biotic drinks and yoghurts that you take, if you’re not putting them into a gut that is otherwise healthy the effect that they have will be drastically reduced.
Contrariwise, if you are changing your diet, i.e. cutting out the foods and so forth that make your gut an unhealthy place for bacteria whilst at the same time increasing foods that make your gut a healthy place for bacteria, then obviously the effect is going to be far more marked.It’s clear that the bottom line results, from this and other tests, that the most healthy thing you can do for your stomach is to give the bacteria what they like to eat, i.e. a good pre-biotic meal. In this case, the bio-scientist recommended that the best vegetables to feed the good bacteria are things like artichokes, garlic, leeks, onions, shallots and those sort of things.The whole idea of eating pre-biotically, is to increase the amount of inulin you eat each day. It’s recommended that if you eat between 8-10grams extra of inulin a day, then the good bacteria in your stomach will work far more efficiently.
Foods that are high in inulin are things like bananas, onion, garlic and leeks as I mentioned earlier, but also things like Jerusalem artichoke, chicory and so forth. Obviously, things like this will be most effective when they are eaten raw. However, even if they are cooked, a high proportion of the inulin will still be passed through to what you get to eat.
Having looked at both fibre and the bacteria in our stomachs, we have touched a little bit on the subject of gas. So just how much gas does the average person produce? Obviously a lot of that depends on diet, and the averages range between ½ a litre to 3 litres of gas a day. Not quite enough to power the planet, but getting on for something like that!
The shocking thing is that without healthy bacteria in our gut, we would actually produce anything up to five times more than this amount!
That’s because the healthy bacteria in our stomachs do two jobs:
They overrun the other bacteria in our stomachs which are the ones that produce the most gas as part of the process that they go through to break our food down, and then other bacteria convert the gasses to smaller volumes before they eventually pass through and we get rid of them.
When you have a stomach upset, obviously the bad bacteria can sometimes overrun the good bacteria, which is why you’ll often get intense wind when you’ve either had a stomach upset or you’ve been over-eating. More crucially been over-eating the wrong types of food.
In part, regularly eating too much is often the cause of excess wind for many folk.
Just cutting down on quantity can have a dramatic positive effect – reducing both discomfort and wind.
When the group who were given foods which made their guts more healthy were tested, they were found to have seen their good bacteria numbers increased by over 100million.
The pro-biotic group, however, (the one taking the little drink of bacteria each day) saw little change over the week.