Giving the low carb diet a go? Here’s how to keep your gut in good shape – without maxing out your carb count.
The low carb diet is popular for a reason – it’s a great way to burn fat, fast. However, changing up your diet can impact your gut health, so you need to be mindful of getting the balance right.
The first step to nourishing your gut is getting enough fibre. We know, it’s not glamorous, but it’s essential for a happy gut. Figures suggest that Australians struggle to meet the recommended daily fibre intake of 25g for women and 30g for men. Switching to a low-carb diet can potentially compound the fibre problem, given that it’s estimated Aussies get around 45% of their dietary fibre from breads and cereals and around 10% from fruit. For the most part, these foods are a no-go zone on the low carb diet.
However, nixing the bread shouldn’t be an issue if you’re smart about your diet. Nutritionist Shannon Young says it’s a complete myth that a low-carb diet is synonymous with a low-fibre diet. “You can successfully reduce your carbohydrate intake and still eat enough fibre,” she explains. “It is all about eating quality foods. Concentrate on filling your plate with low carb foods that are high in fibre such as avocado, berries, cauliflower, leafy greens, broccoli, flaxseeds, chia seeds and nuts such as almonds and pistachios.”
There are different types of fibre, which play different roles in supporting your gut health. “Soluble fibre helps slow down the emptying process in the stomach, helping you feel fuller for longer,” explains Shannon. “Insoluble fibre absorbs water to help soften food and keep you regular. Both these types of fibre are found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds. So, there are plenty of options for low carb dieters. Resistant starch is the only problematic one for people eating low carb. It helps with the production of good bacteria. Resistant starch is found in foods like unripe bananas and cooked and cooled potatoes and rice – these are usually kept to a minimum when following a low carb diet.”
If you aren’t being super strict about your carbohydrate intake, it can be beneficial to include some foods that contain resistant starch. “Resistant starch isn’t completely digested,” Shannon explains. “We only extract about two calories of energy per gram – versus about four calories per gram for regular carbohydrates. The main reason for this is that resistant starch functions like soluble fibre. It makes its way through the digestive tract undigested, eventually reaching the colon where it will feed the friendly gut bacteria and it can improve the function of your digestive system. The best options include wholegrains, fruits, vegetables and beans/legumes.”
However, if you do want to avoid these higher carb options, one of the best ways to support your healthy bacteria is by eating probiotic-rich foods. “Probiotics are foods that provide the gut with good bacteria and help maintain a healthy balance of gut flora,” says Shannon. “This prevents the onset of diseases, boosts your immune system and reduces inflammation in the body. Sauerkraut, kimchi, yoghurt and kombucha are fantastic options that can help promote a healthy gut – just keep an eye out for added sugars.”
When cutting back on carbs, it’s also important to make sure you’re getting the right nutrients to support your gut health. “Focus on getting enough magnesium and potassium as these are usually found in high carbohydrate foods such as potatoes, beans and bananas,” Shannon advises. “If you don’t have enough magnesium, it can change the composition of your gut bacteria and if you’re not getting enough potassium, it can shift the way your digestive system works. Low carb foods that are rich in these nutrients include spinach, chard, pumpkin seeds, avocados and salmon.”
It is worth noting that gut health is complex. What’s good for one person’s gut can be disastrous for another. People generally need more fibre in their diet to help keep their gut happy. However, if you’ve got irritable bowel syndrome, for example, eating a lower FODMAP, lower fibre diet may be the ticket to easing your symptoms and figuring out your triggers. If you’re experiencing issues with your gut, it’s important to consult a health professional, rather than self-diagnosing (and smashing back the kombucha).
Also, get plenty of the best zero carb drink – water! “Stay hydrated,” says Shannon. “Drinking and consuming foods that contain water can help improve digestion and encourage the balance of good bacteria, promoting a healthy gut.”
The best general advice is to just give your gut a good feed. “The best way to nourish your gut whilst sticking to a low carb diet is by making sure you’re eating high quality foods. That’s always a good starting point,” says Shannon. “Include healthy fats that are high in fibre and beneficial nutrients to help reduce inflammation and boost the gut microbiome.” Some simple meal planning and prep can help you get the balance right, so your gut can thrive.
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