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Diet to boost gut microbiome developed by Perth researchers after TV experiment

Professor Amanda Devine developed the Gut Feeling recipe book
Professor Amanda Devine and her colleagues study gut health.

ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne

An easy-to-follow diet designed to boost gut health has been designed by researchers at Perth's Edith Cowan University.

While the diet is not suitable for everyone — people with gluten or other intolerances, or those following a low fodmap diet, should not do it — it could give people who have not been feeding their microbiome well a much-needed boost.

"Generally, people know when they have gut problems — they have bouts of diarrhoea or constipation, bloating, pain, distension," nutrition researcher Amanda Devine said.

"People can use the [diet] to increase high resistant starch over a couple of weeks, and then you would be able to improve, hopefully, your bowel health, feel better.

"If you did have problems with diarrhoea or constipation they may be alleviated.

"You might also find it a cheaper way of eating as there are only small amounts of meat and fish, but in adequate amounts that you are meeting your requirements for nutrients."

Eating for good health

Professor Devine, from the university's School of Medical and Health Sciences, said gut health was an emerging science.

The microbiome is the population of "good" bacteria that lives in our bowels, and researchers believe it benefits best from a diet that is high in resistant starch.

Why? The starch is resistant to digestion in the small intestine, and continues through the digestive tract to the large bowel, where it feeds the microbiota.

Lentil and spinach curry
Recipes like this one for lentil, potato and spinach curry are high in resistant starch, which feeds gut bacteria.

ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne

"The microbiota in the actual bowel produces metabolites and they improve the cellular functioning of the colon itself — and they also improve the immunity of the person," Professor Devine said.

"What epidemiology shows us is that the higher the fibre in the diet and resistant starch, we have lower rates of things like colorectal cancer.

"More resistant starch and more fibres from whole foods like potatoes, like legumes, like grains, is very important for you.

Cans of lentils and tomatoes
The book suggests keeping cooking simple using some canned ingredients and making sure there are leftovers.

ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne

Replacing processed food

Professor Devine and her colleague, Claus Christophersen, recently put their research to the test as part of an episode for the ABC TV series, Ask The Doctor.

"We were first asked to plan a two-week diet, or a menu, that really reflected what most Australians eat," Professor Devine said.

Forty per cent of their dietary energy came from what the researchers called discretionary foods — high sugar, high fat, processed food with low nutritional value.

"Buckets of chips, wine, beer, burgers," she said.

Gut Feeling recipe book
The Gut Feeling recipe book started as an experiment with two doctors, and is now available to the public.

ABC Radio Perth: Emma Wynne

Before they started the researchers took blood, urine and stool samples.

After two weeks of eating the "typical Australian diet", the researchers repeated the tests, then switched to a two-week, high resistant starch diet.

"Short chain fatty acid levels went up," Professor Devine said.

Their findings have been developed in a recipe book, titled Gut Feeling, which they are selling online to fund further nutrition research at the university.

"We have designed this diet to be similar to the Australian dietary guidelines, based on the five food groups," Professor Devine said.

"But it doesn't include those discretionary foods."

The diet is fairly light on meat and includes plenty of vegetables, grains, cereals and beans that contain resistant starch.