Gut Check

How Does the Chinese New Year Diet Change our Gut Microbiome?

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Chinese New Year is a festival celebrated by many worldwide. Various traditions like having reunion dinner with your extended family, consuming various festive treats, and beautifying your house with a variety of streamers and banners are all common during this time of year.

But how does our Chinese New Year diet affect our gut?

The large variety of sweet treats during this period usually means we end up consuming higher amounts of saturated fat, sugar, and sodium. Did you know that your gut microbiome can be affected by your diet in as quickly as 3 days to a week? Studies show that a high-fat diet induced dysbiosis can increase the risk of chronic diseases.

So what are some foods that you can eat during this period which may benefit your gut?

1. Mandarin Oranges
During this festive period, Mandarin oranges are the fruit that gains the most popularity. Giving mandarin oranges “桔子” to your relatives is a symbol of giving wealth or ‘giving gold’. It is a symbol of wishing someone happiness and prosperity as well as a form of respect. 

Mandarin oranges also happen to be rich sources of vitamin C, vitamin A and dietary fibre. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant and benefits the immune system by stimulating white blood cell function. Vitamin A has been shown to alter the structure of the gut microbiota significantly, and has a principal role in the immune homeostasis in the gut as well. The dietary fibre content in mandarin oranges mostly consists of pectin, which is well fermented by the gut microbiota. It has shown to promote the growth of good bacteria in your gut and reduce cardiovascular risk. Consumption of two tangerines a day is shown to provide a considerable amount of carotenoids, vitamin A, and fibre. 

2. Steamed Fish
Another food item that is common during this period is steamed fish “鱼“. It is a symbol of prosperity and surplus. Common types of fish that are used for this dish are catfish, sea bass, and salmon. Fish is a good source of omega-3-polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) which comes in two main bioactive forms, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Research has shown that an increased intake of omega-3 can alter gut microbiota composition. The consumption of EPA and DHA has shown to decrease the risk of gut dysbiosis. DHA in particular is known for its anti-inflammatory properties.

A study was recently carried out with 76 obese/overweight adults that consumed either 750g of cod fish or salmon per week or avoided fish intake (control group) for 8 weeks. The results showed that a high consumption of cod fish and salmon led to a decrease in Bacteroidetes. Individuals with diabetes have been linked to having a higher amount of Bacteroidetes. It is recommended to consume at least 2 servings of fatty fish a week.

3. Hotpot / Steamboat
Hot pot (火锅 ) or ‘steamboat’ is a pot of boiling hot soup with fish, vegetables, or meat to dip in it for cooking. It is usually enjoyed during reunion dinner as the whole family gathers around the reunion table. A common ingredient enjoyed during hot pot is the Chinese cabbage. 

Chinese cabbage falls under the category of cruciferous vegetables. This group of vegetables have distinctive compounds such as glucosinolates and fibre, which are utilized by the gut microbiota. 

A recent study conducted on humans compared the effect of diets with and without cruciferous vegetables on the gut microbiome. After 2 weeks, it was shown that certain bioactive compounds of cruciferous vegetables have potential to affect the growth of certain bacteria and modify the gut microbiota diversity in subjects who consumed cruciferous vegetables. An example is cellulose, which can be converted to Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) by Bacteroidetes. SCFAs boost the immune system as well as improve gut and overall health.

Being mindful of your food choices over the festivities will allow you to have a happy and healthy gut for the new year!

Gut dysbiosis is an imbalance in the gut microbial community associated with disease, driven by genetics, environmental factors (such as diet) & chronic inflammation.

Bacteroidetes are important strains of bacteria that have nutrition flexibility and are able to respond to stresses that occur in the gut environment and the host. 

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  2. Costantini, L., Molinari, R., Farinon, B., & Merendino, N. (2017). Impact of Omega-3 Fatty Acids on the Gut Microbiota. International journal of molecular sciences, 18(12), 2645. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms18122645 
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  7. Turner, T., & Burri, B. J. (2013). Potential nutritional benefits of current citrus consumption. Agriculture (Switzerland), 3(1), 170–187. https://doi.org/10.3390/agriculture3010170

About the author

Elsa Tan is a Year 3 student at Singapore Polytechnic studying Nutrition, Health and Wellness. She is currently interning at AMILI. She has a passion for the health sciences and is particularly interested in the anatomy and physiology of the human body. She sees herself pursuing a physiotherapy degree in the near future.

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