Who’s Really Coming to Dinner?

You might have heard American fare being referred to as the SAD diet – or the Standard American Diet. SAD meaning it is a pathetic excuse for real food. Too high in sugar, bad fats and refined carbohydrates, it has also been chastised for being extremely low in veggies, fruits and color overall. These things are for the most part, true and that is indeed “SAD”. What if there is another feature of our “typical” diets that we are wildly overlooking? What if in all our enthusiasm to bond over store bought cupcakes and frozen pizza with our human clan we are missing the whole point of real health?

Missing perhaps the VIP of the party? That VIP is the one who will happily message you at a later date that you have been a derelict human. That message -be it in the form of diarrhea, constipation, abdominal cramps or heartburn will make a believer out of you. That is you believing that you need to go to your doctor to get a pill for your new ailments.   Your gut isn’t suddenly reneging on it’s duties, it’s absolutely SAD that it hasn’t been fed properly. Feeding a gut doesn’t mean a slice of toast with jam, it means giving it earthly nutrition and a workout. Ever hear that you need to chew on fiber and vegetable matter to keep your teeth? That you need to exercise your muscles so they don’t atrophy? Why would it be any different with your gut?

When you feed your system correctly, it gets great exercise. Exercise that works the muscles in the GI tract, produces energy, absorbs much needed nutrition and creates short chain fatty acids. Nutrition, energy and short chain fatty acids fuel our good health. Butyrate, a short chain fatty acid produced by beneficial bacteria when they munch on food they like, is crucial in maintaining the intestinal mucosal layer, aiding motility in the small intestine and feeding intestinal cells.

In fact – butyrate has been identified as having the following health effects:

Ø  Ion absorption

Ø  Cell proliferation

Ø  Cell differentiation

Ø  Intestinal barrier function

Ø  Immune-regulation

Ø  Oxidative stress

Ø  Intestinal motility

Ø  Visceral perception and rectal compliance

Ø  Insulin sensitivity

Ø  Cholesterol synthesis

Ø  Ammonia scavenger

Ø  Neurogenisis

World J Gastroenterol. 2011 Mar 28; 17(12): 1519–1528.

Published online 2011 Mar 28. doi: 

I don’t know about you but “rectal compliance” is not something I want to turn the other cheek to :).

Short chain fatty acids such as butyrate gained a lot of recognition in the 90’s when it was shown in several studies that the consumption of fiber with resultant production of short chain fatty acids lowered the risk for colon cancer.

So, how do we not become derelict at feeding the most important guest and VIP at our party? For some clarity, let’s look at what some of the humans eat with the lowest rates of bowel cancer….

Well, they (being populations of native Africans) eat a lot of resistant starch coming from bananas, tubers (cassava, yucca), millet, corn, beans, lentils, and yams/sweet potatoes. Resistant starch is just that – its resistant to digestion in the small intestine. Instead, it travels down into the large intestine where good flora eat it and produce short chain fatty acids like butyrate. Resistant starch is not fiber per se. Fiber is either insoluble or soluble and found in things like fruits, vegetables, legumes, wheat and bran. Fiber also helps the gut produce short chain fatty acids but some people (like those with SIBO) can’t tolerate large amounts of fiber. They can however, have small amounts of resistant starch.

So what’s really missing from our dinner plates and who loses? Well, we lose because we forgot to feed our most central source of health – our gut. A well -fed and happy gut truly just wants some good ‘ol whole food sources of resistant starch and fiber. A plate of macaroni and cheese or a hamburger falls glaringly short in providing that type of nourishment. Our SAD diet really doesn’t do much of anything for our good flora except perhaps ignore it.