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Cutting grains? Think again

There’s something special about wholegrains. They contain a distinct combination of cereal fibres and potent antioxidants that are important for gut health.

Many of these fibres and antioxidant compounds are unique to grains or found in much higher amounts than in any other plant-based foods. But it’s how they work with the gut that’s creating a stir.

A new research review by Dr Joanna McMillan, shows carbs – specifically foods that are high in cereal fibre or wholegrains – improve gut health and deliver knock-on benefits for physical and mental health. This includes supporting weight management.

How can grains help with weight loss?

Several large studies have shown that people with diets higher in fibre and wholegrains tend to weigh less and are slimmer. This may be explained by what happens in the gut.

Wholegrains contain fibres that can be fermented by the gut - these are called MACs (microbiota-accessible-carbohydrates). Research shows MACs help the gut by increasing the diversity and number of gut bacteria, while also providing the prebiotics to feed them.

MACs may even play a role in helping to control weight. MACs are fermented by the gut bacteria producing by-products called short chain fatty acids (SCFA). SCFAs help regulate your appetite and food intake. They are also a major energy source for your gut cells, which help strengthen the gut barrier.
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Around the clock antioxidant protection

Wholegrains and cereal fibre also contain insoluble fibres that carry the MACs through the length of the gut. This vital journey allows the gut bacteria to ferment the fibres slowly releasing their powerful phytochemicals – plant compounds with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.

It delivers long-lasting antioxidant protection where it’s needed most, including to areas of the colon prone to cancerous changes.

This slow release of phytochemicals can provide around-the-clock antioxidant and anti-inflammatory protection and is a unique benefit of diets rich in wholegrains and cereal fibre. These benefits complement the effects we see from fruit and veggies, and in some cases the antioxidant benefits of wholegrains and cereal fibre lasts 8 times longer.

This latest evidence into wholegrains and cereal fibre and how they interact with the gut may, in part, explain their links with a lower risk of several chronic diseases, including some cancers, type 2 diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Better gut balance

The key to a healthy gut is maintaining a diverse and even mix of different micro-organisms.

The good news is that changing what you eat is thought to be responsible for around 57% of the variation in the gut bacteria – a much bigger impact than genetics that only accounts for 12%. Eating too little fibre reduces diversity of gut bacteria and reduces production of the all-important SCFA. Whereas eating more fibre increases diversity of healthy bacteria and production of SCFA.

That means there’s huge potential in using diet to improve gut health, whether for weight loss or other health goals.

Altering your diet to improve your gut health delivers quick results. A recent study found it only took 3 weeks of regularly eating a bowl of wholegrain or high fibre breakfast cereal to see positive effects on gut bacteria and improve health.

How to eat for a healthy gut

Here are Dr Joanna McMillan’s 6 tips on eating well for a healthy gut:

1. Focus on a plant-rich diet.
2. Include a diversity of plant foods to ensure you get a range of fibres.
3. Choose foods high in wholegrains and cereal fibre daily.
4. Include legumes at least 2 to 3 times a week.
5. Try to eat a daily handful of nuts and/or seeds.
6. Eat a variety of different vegetables and fruits each day.
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