A Low Fiber Diet Affects Gut Health for Generations
We all know that our food choices impact our health, but what may come as surprising news is that the effects of a low-fiber diet can stretch across generations—with your dietary decisions potentially affecting the overall health of your children, your grandchildren, and far beyond.
The “standard American diet”—low in dietary fiber and high in trans fats, processed foods, salt, sugar, GMOs, and artificial additives—is often abbreviated as the “SAD” diet, and it turns out that this acronym is eerily accurate when it comes to health. You see, one of the most dramatic effects of this typically Western way of eating is its negative impact on the quality and diversity of beneficial gut bacteria, which leaves consumers of SAD foods vulnerable to a host of unpleasant health issues that can transcend generations.
Understanding Your Microbial Wonderland
In addition to all your familiar human cells, your body also contains trillions of bacteria we collectively call the microbiome. The bulk of your microbiome resides in your gut, where most of your immune system is also located.1
The helpful organisms in your microbiome, known as probiotics, work hard to support immune function and healthy digestion, crowd out undesirable microbes, and positively influence almost every aspect of your physical and mental well-being. As long as diverse species far outnumber unwanted bacterial strains, your friendly flora can do their jobs efficiently.
Many experts recommend a ratio of at least 85% good guys to no more than 15% troublemakers to keep you feeling your best.
Fantastic Fiber: The Perfect Food for Probiotics
Like all living organisms, your tiny probiotics need proper nourishment in order to survive, thrive, and do their jobs properly to keep you healthy. But probiotics can’t just cook up dinner or order in like you can—the only way probiotics access their meals is through what you ingest. Of all the different types of foods you take in, it’s prebiotic fiber that perfectly provides for the nutritional needs of your friendly gut bugs.
There’s nothing mysterious about prebiotic fiber—it’s simply the indigestible fiber found in whole plant foods like asparagus, onions, bananas, broccoli, nuts, and apples. Getting sufficient prebiotic fiber in your diet supports your microbiome to enhance wellness in countless ways, including keeping your digestion comfortable and efficient, discouraging stress and encouraging positive mood, healthy weight management, strong bones, and robust immune function.2,3,4,5,6,7
Each probiotic species has its own distinct job, and each type of prebiotic fiber best nourishes and helps increase the numbers of different specific probiotic strains.8 For example, acacia fiber supports the growth of Bifidobacteria (to support healthy aging) and Lactobacilli (to support overall health and a strong gut wall).9,10,11,12
To encourage the widest probiotic diversity, it’s best to eat lots of different kinds of prebiotic foods.
The SAD diet, which contains very little prebiotic fiber, starves out beneficial flora so fewer organisms survive to reproduce. When this happens, your probiotic community shrinks in both overall numbers and diversity. To make things worse, unwanted types of gut bacteria love all the refined sugars so common in low fiber foods, giving undesirable strains an opportunity to thrive and multiply. The resulting impoverished microbiome can have a major negative impact on your health and well-being.
Your Children Inherit Your Gut Bacteria (And Your Dietary Habits)
The connection between what you eat and the state of your microbiome is easy to understand, but you may be wondering how your food choices could have anything to do with your kids’ microbial health. It turns out that when you have children, you pass along a lot more to them than just your genes. Kids get their basic microbiomes from Mom—while they’re in the womb, during vaginal delivery, and as infants when they cuddle skin-to-skin and breastfeed.13,14,15 This means if you have a robust microbiome, your children can reap lifelong health benefits.
Unfortunately, if you pass a weak microbiome on to your baby, new research reveals that gut flora composition can progressively deteriorate with each new generation.16 A groundbreaking study was conducted on mice who had been bred without any microbiomes of their own, in order to level the playing field. Scientists then transplanted human gut microbes into all the mice, and fed some of them fiber rich meals while others received a very low fiber diet.
As you might expect, the mice on the low fiber diet soon experienced a decline in the numbers and diversity of their probiotic microbes, with some beneficial strains virtually disappearing. But when the fiber-deprived mice reproduced, it became clear that the issue wasn’t confined to mouse moms and dads; pups were born with less microbial diversity than their parents, and this effect got worse with each successive generation. By the fourth generation, the effect was so extensive that many probiotic species from the first generation had become completely extinct in that family line.
Interestingly, if the original low fiber-fed mice were later switched to a high fiber diet, their microbiomes quickly recovered. But when their children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were introduced to fiber-rich food, microbial recovery was less complete with each generation because many types of friendly flora were simply no longer present to multiply.
Prebiotics: The Key to a Bright Future
The biggest takeaway from this exciting study is that each of us has the power to give our future children (and all their descendants!) a powerful microbial health advantage by avoiding processed foods, sugar, and artificial additives—and instead adopting a high fiber diet rich in prebiotic fruits, vegetables, and other whole plant foods. Because it can be challenging to get all the prebiotics you need from diet alone, you might also want to supplement with an organic prebiotic powder.
Prebiotic powder is the perfect way to significantly boost your daily prebiotic fiber intake. To get the most from your prebiotic powder though, it’s important to look for one that is food-based and made from ingredients known to encourage the growth of beneficial microbes. Our 100% food-based, organic prebiotic powder contains nothing but wholesome acacia fiber (to support Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli populations), Jerusalem artichokes, and green banana flour.
The best news of all is that if your parents ate poorly and didn’t give you the proper microbial start in life, it’s not too late to break the chain and care for your own probiotic community by introducing lots of friendly new species. You can begin to support your microbiome by playing outside in nature as well as by enjoying delicious cultured and fermented foods like kimchi, natural sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, kefir, and raw unpasteurized apple cider vinegar, all of which contain living probiotic organisms. To make sure you’re getting all the health boosting gut bugs you need to keep feeling your best, consider supplementing with a high quality, time-released probiotic like PRO-15 or PRO-15 Advanced Strength as well.
To maintain your delicate balance of friendly flora, it’s also wise to adopt a gut-healthy lifestyle by:
You can give your kids (and theirs!) an even greater microbial advantage when you “pay forward” all the valuable knowledge you’ve learned. This empowers the next generation to make wise lifelong food choices—and to guide future generations to do the same. A great way to get started is by sitting down together regularly for relaxed, healthy family dinners—and using this time for conversation about how all the yummy, fiber-rich offerings on their plates keep those hard working gut bugs going strong for healthy bodies that can jump and play all day.
Nurturing your own microbial wellness feels absolutely wonderful! But that uplifting feeling will be multiplied beyond measure when you realize that perhaps even the great grandchildren of your great grandchildren will still be reaping the rewards of all the healthy choices you make today.
1. Panda, S., Guarner, F., & Manichanh, C. (2014). Structure and functions of the gut microbiome. Endocrine, Metabolic & Immune Disorders Drug Targets, 4, 290–299.
2. Brownawell, A. M., Caers, W., Gibson, G. R., Kendall, C. W., Lewis, K. D., Ringel, Y., & Slavin, J. L. (2012). Prebiotics and the Health Benefits of Fiber: Current Regulatory Status, Future Research, and Goals. Journal of Nutrition,142(5), 962-974. doi:10.3945/jn.112.158147
3. Schmidt, K., Cowen, P. J., Harmer, C. J., Tzortzis, G., Errington, S., & Burnet, P. W. (2014). Prebiotic intake reduces the waking cortisol response and alters emotional bias in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology, 232(10), 1793-1801. doi:10.1007/s00213-014-3810-0
4. Whisner, C. M., Martin, B. R., Schoterman, M. H., Nakatsu, C. H., Mccabe, L. D., Mccabe, G. P., . . . Weaver, C. M. (2013). Galacto-oligosaccharides increase calcium absorption and gut bifidobacteria in young girls: a double-blind cross-over trial. British Journal of Nutrition,110(07), 1292-1303. doi:10.1017/s000711451300055x
5. Parnell, J. A., & Reimer, R. A. (2009). Weight loss during oligofructose supplementation is associated with decreased ghrelin and increased peptide YY in overweight and obese adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,89(6), 1751-1759. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.27465
6. Hoffen, E. V., Ruiter, B., Faber, J., M'rabet, L., Knol, E., Stahl, B., . . . Garssen, J. (2009). A specific mixture of short-chain galacto-oligosaccharides and long-chain fructo-oligosaccharides induces a beneficial immunoglobulin profile in infants at high risk for allergy. Allergy,64(3), 484-487. doi:10.1111/j.1398-9995.2008.01765.x
7. Michel, C., Kravtchenko, T., David, A., Gueneau, S., Kozlowski, F., & Cherbut, C. (1998). In Vitroprebiotic effects of Acacia gums onto the human intestinal microbiota depends on both botanical origin and environmental pH. Anaerobe,4(6), 257-266. doi:10.1006/anae.1998.0178
8. Markowiak, P., Slizewska, K. (2017). Effects of Probiotics, Prebiotics, and Synbiotics on Human Health. Nutrients, 9(9), 1021. doi:10.3390/nu9091021
9. Michel, C., Kravtchenko, T., David, A., Gueneau, S., Kozlowski, F., & Cherbut, C. (1998). In Vitro prebiotic effects of Acacia gums onto the human intestinal microbiotadepends on both botanical origin and environmental pH. Anaerobe, 4(6), 257-266. doi:10.1006/anae.1998.0178
10. Calame, W., Weseler, A. R., Viebke, C., Flynn, C., & Siemensma, A. D. (2008). Gum arabic establishes prebiotic functionality in healthy human volunteers in a dose-dependent manner. British Journal of Nutrition,100(06), 1269. doi:10.1017/s0007114508981447
11. Blackwood, B. P., Yuan, C. Y., Wood, D. R., Nicolas, J. D., Grothaus, J. S., & Hunter, C. J. (2017). Probiotic Lactobacillus Species Strengthen Intestinal Barrier Function and Tight Junction Integrity in Experimental Necrotizing Enterocolitis. Journal of Probiotics & Health, 05(01). doi:10.4172/2329-8901.1000159
12. Landete, J. M., Gaya, P., Rodríguez, E., Langa, S., Peirotén, Á., Medina, M., & Arqués, J. L. (2017). Probiotic Bacteria for Healthier Aging: Immunomodulation and Metabolism of Phytoestrogens. BioMed Research International, 2017, 1-10. doi:10.1155/2017/5939818
13. Aagaard, K., Ma, J., Antony, K. M., Ganu, R., Petrosino, J., & Versalovic, J. (2014). The Placenta Harbors a Unique Microbiome. Science Translational Medicine, 6(237).
14. Blustein, J., & Liu, J. (2015). Time to consider the risks of caesarean delivery for long term child health. BMJ, 350(Jun09 3).
15. Christensen, G., & Brüggemann, H. (2014). Bacterial skin commensals and their role as host guardians. Beneficial Microbes, 5(2), 201-215.