For many years, consumers in key grains export markets such as China and Japan have acknowledged the effect of diet on the health of their gut and how this links to overall health.
However, the importance of grains in particular in feeding our gut microbiota is only just beginning to be understood.
The potential consumer demand for wholegrains and high-fibre grain foods based on this health benefit is an exciting new area for the Australian grains industry.
The large diversity of bacteria found in our gut, referred to as the microbiome, is individual to every person and is as unique as our fingerprints.
The effect our microbiome may have on our health is a fascinating new area of research.
Current evidence suggests that a healthy microbiome may contribute to myriad health benefits, including assisting with weight management, increasing levels of immunity and reducing the risk of some cancers.
This new field of research is now taking off due to new technology that allows researchers to map the bacteria in an individual’s gut and monitor changes that occur when they alter their diet.
This research has found that a number of factors can affect the health of our microbiome, including our age, method of birth, stress levels and frequency of antibiotic usage.
But perhaps the element with the most power to affect our gut microbiota, and the easiest element to change, is our diet.
Research is showing that the health of our microbiome can be influenced by both short-term and long-term dietary change.
This is because the healthy bacteria in the gut use fibre in foods as an energy source.
These fibres are called ‘prebiotics’. So improving your gut microbiome can be as easy as increasing your intake of vegetables, fruits, legumes, and wholegrain and high-fibre foods.
Equally, too little fibre in the diet and too much protein can have negative effects by disrupting growth of the healthy bacteria.
Found only in plant foods including grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds, dietary fibres are carbohydrates that pass undigested into the large bowel, where they are fermented by the good bacteria inhabiting our digestive system, providing fuel for the microbiome.
Eating a variety of plant foods as part of a high-fibre diet can help to ensure adequate intake of prebiotics.
In contrast, you may also have heard of probiotics that can be taken as a supplement to promote a healthy gut.
These are live, healthy bacteria found in fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and some yoghurt.
Once ingested, these probiotics then end up in your gut, directly increasing the amount of good bacteria.
A healthy intake of fermented foods is just as important as a high intake of fibre for ensuring a healthy microbiome.
As evidence continues to mount on the health benefits of a diet high in plant foods and the implications of good gut health, consumers are becoming increasingly educated on the link between plant foods and a healthy microbiome.
As consumers in both Australia and our key markets begin to understand that grain foods are key to promoting good gut health, so demand for these high-fibre foods should increase.
However, more research is needed. GLNC is providing in-kind contribution to research being conducted at Monash University on the link between the consumption of grains and the effect on the gut microbiome, with results expected in late 2017.
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