Four magical fibres

This column is written by Stig Bengmark – Professor Emeritus, scientist, lecturer and writer. Read more of Stig Bengmark’s columns here.

Maximise your intake of antioxidants and fibre.

Marianne and I eat a diet with the maximum antioxidants and fibre – we keep a close eye on where to find the best and most effective ones, but unfortunately not many other people do. A cereal, for example, wheat roughly consists of three parts: the husk, the sprout and the meal. The nutrition is all in the husk and the sprout – multiple times more than in the meal, which is just empty calories – but still westerners choose to give the husk and bran to pigs so that they can get their ‘ruined’ stomachs in order, and the sprouts to minks, for example, so that they have glossy coats – and content themselves with the condensed, so-called empty calories (nutritionally) that the meal contains. It’s knowledge like this that makes us eat what other people throw away, e.g. cores, shells, greens, etc. (see my previous column on this here).

The daily bread is bad food.

Bread is bad food for many reasons: high in calories, higher sugar index (GI index) than white sugar, in most cases it contains inflammatory gluten and heating toxins, and largely lacks plant fibres – that’s why so many become obese in the long run by eating bread. Two sandwiches a day corresponds to 15 kg of fat storage per year. The surest dieting tip available is to abstain or at least radically reduce your intake of bread and beer (which is also based on grain). One person lost 18 kg in one year just by giving up bread.

The Champions League of antioxidants.

The twelve most antioxidant-rich foods so far identified are, in order: cloves (spice), sumac peel (spice), Ceylon cinnamon (spice), sorghum/durra (grain), oregano (spice), turmeric (spice), acai (berry), cocoa powder, cumin (spice), maqui (berry), parsley (salad) and basil (spice). Close by are also, among others, teff, amaranth, quinoa (all seeds) and buckwheat (actually a bean). It gives us hope to see that seeds, which are uniquely rich in antioxidants and plant fibre, are excellent for use in baking bread. One thing is for sure – we’re facing a revolution in bread culture.

Unfortunately, plant breeders have already started to increase ‘meal content’ to increase yields in the same way they did with maize, wheat, rye and barley and a lot of fruits to increase the degree of sweetness (sugar content). There are many who want to enjoy the ANCIENT POWER of unprocessed seeds in the future. But we have to be prepared to pay for it – many times more than what we pay for cheap wheat today, for example.

Fibres, fibres, and fibres again.

Fibre is food for our gut bacteria. The intestinal bacteria produce useful substances from fibre that seal our intestines and protect against leakage of toxins into the body, and which radically strengthen our immune systems and protect against various diseases. While waiting for a new generation of fibre- and antioxidant-optimised, low-temperature-baked bread and muesli, it’s important that we seek all the opportunities we can to get plenty of additional plant fibre. Our ancestors ate 150 grams a day of plant fibre – this is difficult to reach. Their intestinal flora was also more than twice as rich, both in terms of the total number of bacteria and in the number of species. People in general, especially those who suffer from elevated inflammation such as obese people, have much smaller intestinal flora – they’ve lost their fibre-digesting intestinal flora completely as they have avoided ‘feeding’ these bacteria for years. The bacteria they’ve lost include lactobacilli such as Plantarum, Paracasei, and Pediococcus – lactobacilli that fascinate me and that I’ve chosen for the synbiotics that I’ve developed, and whose effects I’m studying.

Today’s health authorities in western countries have given up – they don’t dare to recommend a daily fibre intake of more than 35 grams, which is almost ironic as the reality is that the average intake of fibre in both North America and Europe is actually only 15 grams. I wrote a column previously about the importance of fibre intake for our health. Maybe I don’t manage 150 grams a day, but at least I can pass the corn test, blueberry test and Kebnekaise test successfully.

Unripe plants are very rich in both fibre and antioxidants.

When plant fibres mature, they’re converted into simple sugars. A typical example is an unripe banana, which is enormously rich in fibre, especially pectin, but which becomes mostly sugar and calories on ripening. This knowledge is why we never buy yellow (we call them ‘half-rotten’) bananas, but instead go for them when they’re green, difficult to peel, and the contents stick to our palates when we eat them. When these are available, we buy them in large quantities and freeze them for later use (in smoothies, soups, etc.) after the skin’s been removed. We used to do the same with avocados, but this is unnecessary now because they’re available to buy frozen.

Potatoes are also rich in pectin, which unfortunately becomes sugar when it’s boiled, but the fantastic thing is that the sugar turns back to fibre when the potatoes are allowed to cool (in a process called recrystallisation). Our ancestors ate plants long before they ripened, and so do wild monkeys. My opinion is that we should also be developing technology to harvest plants, e.g. seeds and grains perhaps 2-3 weeks earlier than we traditionally do, something which, however, requires completely different harvesting tools than the ones we currently have at our disposal.

Magical fibres.

Four types of fibre have magical health effects: pectin, inulin, beta-glucans and resistant starch. It’s these fibres I’ve been focusing on for more than 15 years, and which I’ve chosen to be key ingredients in the recipe for my synbiotics.

Pectin

Pectin is actually one of my favourites, and possibly a favourite of the gut bacteria, too. 100% of the pectin we eat reaches the large intestine and gut flora. Pectin is especially abundant in citrus fruits, especially in grapefruit (and mostly in the peel), apple (also mostly in the peel), unripe bananas, apricots, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches and more. Pectin has a unique ability to reduce metabolic syndrome – the ‘mother of disease’ – and to significantly reduce the level of harmful cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) in the blood, which is known to be a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Pectin is also known for effectively inhibiting diarrhoea. In one small study, pectin has been shown to be effective in inhibiting the growth of prostate cancer when no other treatment appeared to be effective. To achieve clinical effects, large amounts of pectin should be ingested daily – at least 6 grams, corresponding to about 4 grapefruits daily, or very large amounts of other pectin-rich fruits and berries.

Inulin

Inulin is by far the fibre whose health effects have been most studied – just over 10,000 research reports on inulin are available. Inulin belongs to a group of carbohydrates called fructans, and they’re most abundant in the herb chicory and in Jerusalem artichokes (in fact about a fifth of the root is pure inulin), and also in garlic (9-16% inulin), leeks (3-10% inulin) and regular white onions (2-6% inulin). Dandelion roots are also rich in inulin, and bananas also contain inulin, albeit only in a small percentage (0.3 – 0.7%). Unfortunately, large parts of the population have lost the intestinal bacteria that are able to digest these beneficial fibres and if they eat more than 2-3 grams of inulin a day, they’ll unfortunately suffer from intestinal problems: gas, upset stomach, nausea, diarrhoea, flatulence, stomach cramps, stomach rumbling and also constipation. I say ‘unfortunately’ because there’s probably no other fibre that can offer so many good health properties. Here are a few examples selected from thousands of studies:

  • A person who manages to endure some gut problems can count on both the total amount and the number of species of their gut bacteria increasing significantly, as shown by a study of 30 obese women who were given a fairly large daily dose of inulin (16 g) for 3 months. The increase in the number of species of gut bacteria was actually quite dramatic. (1)
  • Inulin increases insulin sensitivity, reduces metabolic syndrome and counteracts the development of type 2 diabetes. 40 volunteers with preliminary stage of type 2 diabetes who were given a large dose of inulin (30 g) for 2 weeks showed a dramatic decrease in blood sugar.

Beta-glucans

Beta-glucans are found mainly in cereals, oats and barley, in various mushrooms such as shiitake, maitake, reishi, shimeji and oyster varieties, as well as in dates. Beta-glucans show such a significant, guaranteed effect in reducing bad cholesterol in the blood that authorities in the United States, for example, allow it to be marketed as ‘heart protective’. Even an intake of only 3 grams of beta-glucan from oats has been shown to lower blood cholesterol levels by no less than 23%. In addition to cardioprotective effects, in studies, beta-glucans also:

  • Protect against antibiotic-resistant strains (3)
  • Protect against cancers such as melanomas (4)
  • Increase energy, improve mood, and protect against infections – especially flu and especially in women who are stressed. Studies show that the supply of this fibre reduces the number of infections by two thirds. (5)

Resistant starch

The name simply comes from the fact that this fibre goes 100% directly to the large intestine without being broken down by the body’s own enzymes in the stomach and small intestine – this task can only be done by the bacteria’s enzymes. There are four types of resistant starch:

  • RS1 – the fibre is locked in the husk and can only be opened by the bacteria: grains, seeds, legumes.
  • RS2 – potatoes, sweet potatoes, unripe bananas – important fibre that becomes starch/sugar if cooked.
  • RS3 – RS1 and RS2 fibres that are allowed to cool and which then return to being resistant in a process called regrading /recrystallisation. This property is maintained even after gentle heating – but not above normal body temperature.
  • RS4 – a kind of industrially produced synthetic form such as ‘hi-maize resistant starch’.

Resistant starch is one of the mystery figures of fibre, but perhaps the main source for the production of ‘intestine-sealing’ and anti-inflammatory short-chain fatty acids (mainly butyric acid), known to counteract metabolic syndrome. This fibre is also known to counteract obesity. Daily consumption of 15 – 30 grams very strongly counteracted metabolic syndrome while contributing to a weight loss in obese people of no less than 10%. (6)

It’s a disaster that our intestinal flora is becoming increasingly scarce, which leads to a deteriorating immune system and increasing morbidity. It’s estimated that westerners (the yellow line) have lost 40% of their intestinal flora compared to those so far showing the best flora – the Yanomami in South America’s Amazon, and 20% compared to Africans who live the way our ancestors did.

Forecasts show that by 2050, most chronic diseases will have tripled or even quadrupled. No society can withstand such a development – solidarity-based healthcare for all has since long since collapsed. It’s high time for you and I to take personal responsibility for our health.

‘Value your gut bacteria highly and it will serve you well so that you may survive on this planet for a long time!’

Literature references:

  1. Dewulf EM et al. Gut. 2013;62:1112-1121
  2. Guess ND et al. Ann Nutr Metab. 2015:17;68:26-34
  3. Stuyven E et al. Vet Immunol Immunopathol 2009;128:60-66
  4. Vetvicka V, Vetvickova J. Anticancer Res. 2015;35:5287-5292
  5. Talbott SM, Talbott JA. J Am Coll Nutr. 2012;31:295-300
  6. Maki KC et al J Nutr. 2012;142:717-723

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