Did you know that there are more microorganisms in the gut (over 40 trillion) than there are human cells in the body, scattered along a surface area ten times greater than the skin? Together, all the microorganisms in our gut are called the gut microbiota. Like a unique fingerprint, each person has their very own massive collection of microbes in the gut.
Why Microbes Matter
Every day we live in harmony with our gut microbiota which help to digest the food, regulate our immune system, produce vitamins, and protect against the harmful bacteria that can cause disease and illness. Diet, medication use, stress, exercise, and even being born by C-section or whether you were breastfed as a baby can all influence our gut microbiota. An imbalance in the gut microbiota has been linked to an extensive list of illness and disease such as anxiety, depression, autism, and Parkinson’s disease. The gut hormones that regulate appetite and energy intake may even influence obesity.
A Focus on Fibre
Since the gut microbiota live on the fibre from the food we eat daily, a healthy diet that includes fibre is clearly especially important. Unfortunately, many South Africans fall short of the recommended fibre intake each day. It is recommended that women consume at least 25g and men at least 38g of fibre per day. In a survey of South African diets, the fibre intake in women and men seems to be as low at 16g and 18g, respectively.
Fibre is found in plant-based foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, legumes, and wholegrains, and is the part of the plant that cannot be broken down by the digestive enzymes in the gut. Our gut needs diverse types of fibres to keep it healthy, each of which has its own unique function. Soluble fibre acts like a mop and helps absorb fluid in the gut, forming a soft, gel that helps the stool to easily pass through the gut. This fibre is found in oats, oat bran, oranges, bananas, apples, carrots, berries, and legumes such as beans, lentils and split peas.
The other type of fibre is insoluble fibre, and this fibre does not dissolve in water. Insoluble fibre acts like a broom, roughly sweeping through the gut to remove waste. This type of fibre is found naturally in wholegrains such as high fibre bread and breakfast cereals, digestive bran, brown/wild rice, nuts, seeds, corn, and the skin of fresh produce.
Avocados and the Gut
The good news is that avos are a good source of fibre in the diet, a unique mix of both insoluble fibre (70%) and soluble fibre (30%). In fact, new research has suggested that eating avo may benefit the gut microbiota. In the study, participants either received a low energy diet with one Hass avocado per day, or a low energy diet without avocado. In both groups, there were significant decreases in weight and total body fat. However, those who ate avocados had an increase in the abundance of healthy gut bacteria and also lost more weight than those who didn’t eat avocados daily. The authors think that the weight loss was related to a shift in gut microbiota, given that one Hass avocado contains 9.2g of dietary fibre.
So, go on, add an avo to your diet today. Your gut microbes will thank you.