The things you never knew about fibre and the microbiome

The things you never knew about fibre and the microbiome

Fourteen years ago, our initial research on the health benefits of seaweed fibre opened our eyes to just how much fibre really has been stripped from modern diets. 

This is becoming common knowledge now more and more. So much so that people are now aware of different types of fibre, and the terms "insoluble" and "soluble" fibre have become more widely recognized by the general public. Today, the concept of fibre diversity is gaining a broader appreciation, but what does it truly entail? Which aspects of fibre exhibit diversity? Here I want to try and expand the general concept of fibre.

Understanding the Zookeeper Analogy

Imagine being a zookeeper who understands that lions cannot thrive on bamboo, and pandas should not consume steak. The diverse dietary needs of various animals must be met to maintain a rich and vibrant zoo environment. Similarly, our gut requires a diverse range of foods to nourish the symbiotic partnership we have developed with a unique ecosystem of gut microbes. Evolution has shaped us into specific types of animals, and our gut flora plays a significant role in defining our nutritional requirements. While a leopard's streamlined gut wouldn't appreciate gum leaves, a koala would refuse to consume a rabbit.

An animal is not just one organism

A lot of it has to do with the symbiotic relationship that we have with our gut microbiome - which species are there, what they do and what they need to eat. A carnivore microbiome is very different to a herbivore microbiome, and we can't just change microbiomes to switch diets because our whole metabolism inside of us has evolved to work with a specific type of microbiome. Human microbiomes sit in between that of carnivores and herbivores and this gives us great flexibility to eat a lot of diverse food sources and to span the planet on different diets that include camel milk in Africa, plant rich diets of India, and Seal fat on Greenland. But we need a complex microbiome to support this and that microbiome needs a diet rich in fibre; even if not as rich in fibre as for a herbivore.

The Role of Microbial Diversity

We, as primates and omnivores, fall between carnivores and herbivores when it comes to microbial diversity. Our bodies have evolved to process a wide array of foods, and a solely meat-based or bamboo-centric diet would not sustain our optimal health. We struggle when our diets lack diversity and complexity, a factor that affects our gut microbiome. Eating within the constraints of the modern industrialized diet would be as if we are confined to the dietary constraints of a zoo, with the zookeeper failing to provide us with the appropriate nourishment.

Diversity in herbivores comes from passing the batton

Herbivores, especially grass grazers like a zebra on the plains, have a microbiome diversity that has a talent at making difficult to digest plants digestible. The zebra could not eat grass without them because the zebra itself cannot produce the enzymes that extract the energy out of the fibre. They pass the digestion job down a complex line of microbes and, in this way, a simple food becomes many different types of fibre in an ecosystem process - much like a forest floor decomposing timber and leaves. This is why their gut flora is so diverse. The zebra is not really eating the grass per say - but all of the nutrients and vitamins that the microbes make for them from the grass.

Humans need diversity to survive many different places and conditions

Humans also pass fibre down the line, but not as much the really tough woody fibres. Instead we have evolved to have a microbiome that embraces lots of different sources of plant fibres so that we can move and eat in different places, different plants, in different seasons and times to maintain a stable population throughout the year. These are bulk fibres, soluble fibres, fermented bacterial fibres and indeed the sulfated, soluble fibres only found in seaweeds, or chondroitin sulfate from animal connective tissue is also a sulfated fibre. But we need to keep feeding ourselves all of these different fibres to maintain our super adaptable microbiomes.

Locusts have a different strategy - they live fast and die young on masse when their food disappears, because that is the end of the line for them. A few of them lay low until the next opportunity for their specialized food emerges again with the next season.

Humanized and Industrialized Microbiomes

Recent studies have shown notable differences between the gut flora of wild and captive animals, with the captive microbiomes becoming more "humanized." In this context, humanization refers to a simplified and industrialized microbiome from less diverse food, which is not ideal when our metabolism struggles to adapt to such a streamlined diet. It isn't even just the streamlined diet, but the reduced microbial diversity of the industrial soils that our food is grown in affects us as well. It is analogous to adapting to the pace of climate change - it is too fast for our own good. This situation raises concerns as our health may suffer if we cannot evolve fast enough to cope with the effects of a simplified diet from microbially poor soils.

Human gut microbiomes get passed on through generations

Here is your opportunity to impact the future. What you eat today could create a microbiome in your that can affect up to four generations ahead of you, well at least if you are a mouse, and lead to a poor ability to digest certain foods in your future generations. This becomes a problem in your ability to adapt to diverse conditions, diverse countries and diverse foods. Something that should not be ignored in climatically shifting times. 

Learning from the Past

It is intriguing that Mr Maximilian Bircher-Benner advocated for whole plant foods in the early 1900s. However, even after more than a century, we still struggle to communicate the importance of a healthy diet to the masses. Bircher-Benner's name lives on through his creation of raw muesli, which is now a popular option in cafeterias and quick breakfast outlets. While some of Bircher-Benner's explanations may have seemed esoteric at the time, it is clear from observation and statistical data that individuals who consume diverse, wholefoods generally fare better than those who don't. And once again, unprocessed wholefoods does not fundamentally mean unprocessed wholefoods only. Fried tomatoes are processed and include more nutritional compounds for our health, while raw bananas have a better fibre content than cooked bananas. A wholegrain sourdough loaf is very processed but also nutritional. Wholefoods is a contextual meaning rather than a literal term. 

Simplifying the Approach

In recent years, our understanding of nutrition, the microbiome, metabolism, and health has deepened. The once-mystical aspects of nutrition are now supported by substantial data and evidence. It is essential to recognize that eating well can be a simple endeavor without adding stress to life if the context is understood. A diet based on real food, predominantly consisting of plants, with a variety of colors and sources of nutrition, including seaweed, forms a solid foundation. Individuals can customize their diets based on personal preferences, ethical considerations, metabolism, or sensitivities. Athletes may require higher energy intake, individuals with peanut allergies should seek alternative protein sources, and those lacking seafood consumption can supplement with iodine or Omega-3. The human digestive tract is adaptable enough to handle wholly plant-based diets if they are truly diverse, ensuring animal welfare for those who hold this as a priority. However plant rich diets with some fermented dairy (cheese and yoghurt), eggs and occasional seafood at the bottom of the food chain (shellfish and sardines) can make complete nutrition a bit easier.

Introducing SeaBircher

Inspired by Benner-Birchers' insights into health and nutrition, and responding to customer demand for a non-granola muesli, we proudly present SeaBircher! This unique blend combines our premium seaweed with apples into our proprietary Sea Tangles. To enhance the protein content further, we have incorporated pea protein. Bircher himself recommended Bircher Muesli as an appetizer to each meal. Nevertheless, simply starting your day with SeaBircher provides a spectrum of fibre for your microbiome to get kickstarted, and most importantly highly diverse fibres with 70% coming from:

  1. SeaFibre (SXRG84) from seaweed: This clinically tested sulphated glycan fibre is utilized by Bifidobacteria and supports the gut lining and immune system.
  2. Pectin from apples: Known to support probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus, pectin, contributes to a healthy gut mucous barrier and aids in eliminating pathogens.
  3. Beta-glucan from oats: A soluble fibre that promotes a microbiome associated with weight management and glucose metabolism, including Bacteroides species that modulate energy availability from fibre instead of relying on a sugar-driven diet.

The remaining fibres come from a diversity of insoluble fibres from different plants that are good for bulk in the gut.

Getting to 10 out of 30 at the start of the day

As our understanding of nutrition expands, it becomes evident that fibre diversity plays a crucial role in maintaining optimal gut health. This is why recent recommendations suggest aiming to eat up to 30 different plants per day! SeaBircher starts you off nicely with 8 plants, and if you add some berries, bananas or soymilk to this then you are at well over 10 before the day has really started.

Simple and sane

Despite the complexities and remaining gaps in scientific knowledge, the core principle remains simple: "you are what you eat." Adopting a diet based on real, diverse, and predominantly plant-based foods can bring numerous benefits. By embracing this concept, we can overcome global challenges related to nutrition and make informed dietary choices for our well-being - without the stress.

We hope you can RISE to better health with our SeaBircher, and a bit of seaweed fibre diversity in every meal.