Photo of trial barley crop

Foods to promote gut health and protect against colorectal cancer

The Preventative Health Flagship is investigating new foods for improved gut health, and better ways of delivering active components of food into the gut.

  • 23 December 2008 | Updated 17 November 2014

Colorectal cancer risk and gut health are strongly affected by the food we eat. Researchers in CSIRO’s Preventative Health Flagship are studying foods and food components which may improve gut health and reduce colorectal cancer risk.

Resistant starches

Resistant starch is a type of dietary fibre which does not break down in the small intestine. Diets high in resistant starch have been associated with improved bowel health and a reduction in the risk of colorectal cancer.

Preventative Health Flagship researchers have developed Starplus™, using naturally occurring resistant starch bonded to a short-chain fatty acid molecule.

Researchers are studying foods and food components which may improve gut health and reduce colorectal cancer risk.

This allows the short-chain fatty acid molecules to pass through the small intestine undigested and to become available in the colon. In the colon, these molecules act as an energy source for the cells lining the colon and may have an additional protective effect against colorectal cancer.

Read more about Starplus™ starch for healthier bowels.

Searching for new protective foods

The Preventative Health Flagship has developed a range of technologies for the breaking down of food into its individual parts (food fractionating) and testing (in vitro screening assays).

The assays are used to identify novel elements within food that may be able to elicit health benefits. These health benefits are then confirmed in trials with human volunteers or other living organisms (bioactives) to prove their health benefits.

Read more about our work in protective food discovery in Bioprospecting drives the search for foods with proven health benefits.

Delivering active components to the gut

Many active food components can lose potency either during storage or some types of processing.

For these active components to provide health-promoting benefits, they need to be protected until they reach the part of the digestion process where they will be most beneficial.

One strategy being examined is to protect active components through microencapsulation technologies. This involves creating a thin film of proteins and carbohydrates to trap the active parts inside.

The film must protect the active components during food processing, storage and cooking to ensure it is available after food consumption and digestion.

The resulting capsule is only a few microns in diameter. Ongoing research is increasing the range of materials that can be incorporated and reducing the overall particle to 'nano' size.

Read more about our work on Microencapsulating bioactives for food and pharmaceuticals.

Discover more about the Preventative Health Flagship's work on colorectal cancer and gut health