What's one of the most popular diets at the moment; a word that people can't seem to get off their lips?
The ketogenic diet or keto diet.
There are claims that the ketogenic diet can help you lose weight and reduce your likelihood of developing diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
So, what is the keto diet?
I thought you'd never ask!
Basically it's a very low-carb, high-fat way of eating that involves drastically reducing carbohydrate intake, and replacing it with fat. Once we starve our body of carbohydrates, our energy fuel source, we put our bodies into a metabolic state known as ketosis. Instead of using carbohydrates for energy, our bodies burn fat. Sounds great, right?
Whilst the ketogenic diet can help with weight loss and reducing blood sugar, I like to look at the ketogenic diet with a pinch of salt (which is one thing that actually is allowed in the keto diet.)
Once we demonise a whole food group, food no longer becomes our friend. Carbohydrates are not the enemy and everything, including carbohydrates, should be eaten and enjoyed in moderation!
Not to mention that by cutting out carbohydrates, we lose out on the benefits of many nutrients that we need to support our gut function and immune system. In particular, we may miss out on very important prebiotics that are found in root vegetables, seeds, fruit and more. No, that was not a spelling error, I said prebiotics, not probiotics!
We know that our microbiome is the community of bacteria that reside within our body and is responsible for more than just our digestive health. Within your gut, the healthy community of micro flora involves a greater number of probiotics or friendly bacteria, and a smaller amount of pathogenic bacteria. However our friendly, good guys need to be fed to maintain the survival of their colony. This is where prebiotics come in and in simple terms, they act as a food for probiotics.
Prebiotics play a major role in promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and are incredibly important in helping protect and rebuild within the intestinal walls. Whilst probiotic foods and fermented foods have been getting a lot of media attention of late, it’s prebiotics that do all the behind-the-scenes work in our tummies. Without prebiotics, probiotics have a poor chance of surviving, as they are high in special types of fibre to support digestive health.
I like to think of probiotics as little babies with their mouths wide open waiting to be fed in order to survive. Prebiotics are the ideal food for these babies and when you think about the average good gut bug only lasting twenty minutes in the gut, it's even more important to feed them a healthy diet to keep them alive.
Foods that are rich in prebiotic fibre include jicama (Mexican yam), dandelion greens, asparagus, sweet potato, onions, garlic, chicory root, celeriac, cashews, pistachios, parsnips, lentils, kidney beans, and Jerusalem artichoke.
Now that we know that prebiotics promote the growth and proliferation of good bacteria in your digestive system it's interesting to understand that probiotics are live organisms, whereas prebiotics are the components of food that would otherwise not be easily digested by humans but are thoroughly enjoyed by your beneficial bacteria.
Root vegetables such as celeriac, parsnip and sweet potato can be significantly richer in prebiotics helping you to house significantly more diverse and thriving strains of good bacteria as a result of eating them.
Unfortunately many keto enthusiasts are ditching prebiotic rich vegetables because of their carbohydrate content which is not great news for a healthy and diverse gut.
Prebiotic fruits that have extra punch in feeding good bacteria include avocado, custard apples, nectarines, white peaches, persimmon, banana, apple, pomegranate, and figs.
So, let's look at just a few of my favourite prebiotic-rich foods to include in your diet for a healthy and robust gut.
Onions – whilst chopping onions can bring on the water-works for some people, they’re so full of gut-boosting and health-improving properties that they may well be worth a few tears. Onions contain a high amount of fibre which helps to strengthen gut flora, improve digestion and break down fat. Onions contain a flavonoid called quercetin, which makes them high in antioxidants. Did you know onions can also play a huge role in improving your cardiovascular and immune systems? I love sautéing onions and having them as a deliciously sweet side and using them as a terrific base to soups and curries to bring out sumptuous flavours. Try my Red Onion Bhajis with Minted Raita which are delicious.
Root vegetables are just so easy to root for. Starchy root vegetables, like sweet potato, yams, turnips, parsnips and squash are easy-to-digest and cleansing for the body. They contain fibre and nutrients, meaning that they help keep us satiated. Whilst these vegetables tend to be sweet in taste, they have a low level of natural sugar and a low glycemic index level. Foods with a low glycemic index are less likely to cause an increase in blood sugar levels. They’re also high in vitamins A and C so great boosters for the immune system.
Jicama root, also known as a Mexican yam, is a great prebiotic choice and is packed with health-boosting vitamins and minerals to improve overall health. Jicama’s vitamin C content can help improve immunity, support skin health and even act as an anti-inflammatory. This vegetable is low in calories and high in fibre, helping improve digestion and is loaded with iron and a balance of all the essential amino acids, helping energy levels. Just a warning, jicama isn’t a vegetable that everyone can find at his or her local grocery store. If you’re on the lookout, maybe try your closest Asian grocer.
I love baking root vegetables in the oven with my favourite herbs and garlic and eating root veggie soups and always roast them first for maximum flavour then just add a splash of coconut milk, cumin and whizz it up in food processor. You can also mash them and add a touch of nut butter to make a beautiful Smashed Root Veg Bowl.
Flaxseeds – while flaxseeds have been gaining popularity in the health world over the last few years, these little nutrition-packed brown seeds have been consumed as a food source for around 6000 years. Whilst flaxseeds may look little, their benefits are anything but; they can help improve digestion, promote weight loss, balance hormones and reduce sugar cravings. Flaxseeds are one of my favourite beautifying foods – they help keep the skin clear and youthful. The fibre in flaxseeds helps promote regular bowel movements and reduce the amount of dietary fat that we absorb. They’re high in an antioxidant know as lignin, which helps balance hormones and increase the health of our cells. I love that flaxseeds a gut health cheerleader and can even help to eliminate bad bacteria in the body. In my kitchen, I like to sprinkle flaxseeds over my eggs, make a flaxseed crust with baked fish or put a tsp of ground flaxseeds in my porridge.
Leeks – I'm so wanting to slide in a leaky gut joke here but I won’t. Leeks are a great prebiotic with inulin fibre to promote healthy gut bacteria and break down fat. Leeks are also high in Vitamin K and flavonoids, which are great for blood, bones and heart health. The slightly sweeter and subtle sister plant to onions and garlic, leeks contain flavonoids which keep our blood vessels relaxed and protected. These flavonoids also produce nitric oxide to help maintain heart health, increase blood flow and decrease blood clotting. Leeks are one of my favourite vegetables to roast and pan fry for toppings to soups and they’re delicious additions in casseroles. They also make a great stock for the basis of meals. Find my Bestest Ever Vegetable Stock recipe with leeks here.
Whole oats are a beautiful prebiotic grain that contain large amounts of a fibre known as beta-glucan and resistant starch. Beta-glucan has been linked to improving healthy gut bacteria, controlling blood sugar levels and slowing down digestion. Did you know that eating oats can keep our cholesterol levels in check? Oats are full of soluble fibre which reduces our absorption of the ‘bad’ cholesterol, known as LDL (low-density lipoprotein) in the bloodstream. Every spoonful of porridge you eat is doing you good and now you can look for the gluten free varieties. I like to start my day with gutmeal or try your hand at my Bircher Muesli Bowl or Golden Gut Oatmeal Cookies. Some people like to use oat flour in baking as it has a sweet flavour and, for those who don’t like nut milks, oat milk can be a good alternative.
Seaweed – this one’s for seafood lovers. Seaweed contains a cocktail of nutrients, vitamins and minerals including vitamin K, calcium and iron. It’s a prebiotic algae that's extremely high in fibre to enhance the growth of good gut bacteria, prevent bad bacteria and boost the immune system. Want to help build strong bones and regulate your blood pressure? Seaweed is the answer. Intriguingly, seaweed contains fourteen more times calcium than milk does. You can often see me snacking on seaweed or twirling it singlehandedly into soups. Read more about the benefits of seaweed here and try my delicious Seaweed and Sesame Salad.
If you’re a ketogenic fan and love how you’re feeling and the results you’re seeing - that’s great! Just remember to support your body with the right fuel it needs. I recommend supplementing with prebiotic rich foods and using my Love Your Gut Powder and Golden Gut Blend to ensure you’re giving your gut and body the love that it needs to work as efficiently as possible!