Researchers at King’s College London have discovered that onions and garlic can keep your gut healthy and in top working condition.

By analysing 64 studies, the researchers found that ‘prebiotic fibres’ in onions and garlic – along with those in wheat, artichokes and lentils – had a greater impact on bacteria found in the body than the general fibres found in foods such as fruit, potatoes and brown rice.

Bacteria are often viewed as sources of disease but many play an essential role in keeping you healthy – in fact your body is made up of more bacterial cells than human cells! What we eat can quickly change the makeup of our bacteria.

“Good bacteria” in the digestive tract feed the prebiotic fibre found in onions and garlic, and the analysis found that consumption of this type of fibre resulted in higher levels of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium bacteria in the gut. These bacteria are essential for a healthy digestive system to operate effectively and are already known and consumed in probiotic foods such as yoghurt.

Traditional sources of fibre such as whole wheat pasta and bread, broccoli, nuts and berries have long been known to help people maintain a healthy weight and to lower the risk of bowel cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The researchers at King’s College have shown, however, that these general fibres do not have an appreciable effect on the type of bacteria living in the gut.

The researchers hope that their findings will be used as a basis for new long-term studies, and that they ultimately lead to more tailored and scientifically sound dietary advice for people struggling with unbalanced gut bacteria. This could help people with chronic gut diseases linked to gut bacteria such as diabetes, and patients with conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome who may struggle to eat large amounts of high fibre foods without experiencing ill effects.

The prebiotic fibre ‘inulin’, found in onions, helps those with type 2 diabetes by improving blood sugar reactions and stabilising glucose levels. There have also been indications that another compound found in onions, ‘allium cepa’ can have a significant effect on lowering blood sugar, though more research needs to be done.

Aside from eating more onions and garlic, you can make sure your gut is performing at its best by eating a wide range of plant based foods, avoiding highly processed foods (these can be toxic to good bacteria) and choosing extra-virgin olive oil over other fats when you can, as it contains the highest number of polyphenols, which can help with gut microbe growth. It should also be mentioned that antibiotics kill good bacteria as well as bad, so if you do need them you should make sure to consume lots of bacteria-boosting foods afterwards.

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