There has been a lot of talk about gut health over recent years and we are so lucky with the advances in research and technology that we are really beginning to understand just how important our gut is. Up to 70% of our immune cells are found in our gut, so a healthy diverse gut can support good immunity. Also our gut is linked to our brains via the gut-brain axis. This means that our gut is constantly communicating with our brain. So a healthy gut impacts not only physical health, but also our mental health.
What is our gut?
We all have a unique set of microbes, these microbes determine how we react to what we eat. So the way you react to one meal may be totally different to how your friend reacts to the same meal, it is all dependent on your own gut microbiome.
So how do we get a healthy microbiome?
Unfortunately there is no superfood for your gut, instead your gut loves a huge variety of food to feed from. Research shows us that people with the healthiest guts (which is classified by having the most diverse microbiome) are eating at least 30 different types of plant based foods each week.
What can I do to improve my gut diversity?
- Eat a mainly plant based diet high in fibre: Fibre is your guts favourite food but unfortunately many of us in the UK don’t consume the recommended 30g a day. Fibre is not found in animal products and is instead found in plant based foods such as, fruit, veg, legumes, nuts, grains and seeds. Fibre promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria, including Bifidobacterial.
- Eat a variety of foods: The more variety the better! Try adding some vegetables or fruits into your basket that you wouldn’t normally go for. Another good way to tackle this one is by eating the rainbow! Different colour foods will give you different nutrients that will feed your gut; when you look into your basket have you got foods from every colour of the rainbow?
- Aim for 10 portions of fruit and veg a day: There is currently no upper limit on how many plant based foods we should have a day, and recently it is believed that we should be aiming for 10 portions of fruit and vegetables rather than 5. Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption will increase your fibre intake, which we know feeds the gut microbes and aids the production of serotonin, which is our happy hormone and 90% of that hormone is made in our gut.
- Include a small amount of fermented food: Fermented foods are rich in probiotic bacteria so by eating these foods you will be adding beneficial bacteria to your microbiome. Many fermented foods are rich in lactobacilli, which is a type of bacteria that has been proven to have good health outcomes. Examples of fermented foods are yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and tempeh.
- Try to avoid highly processed foods, chemicals and artificial sweeteners: Studies are beginning to emerge that show that artificial sweeteners can actually damage your gut microbiota, this is then believed to have a negative impact on blood sugar levels.
- Eat foods rich in polyphenols: Polyphenols are found in plant based foods and have many health benefits. The body cannot digest polyphenols, so most of them make their way through the gastrointestinal tract to the colon where they can be digested by gut bacteria. Good sources of this foods are Cocoa and dark chocolate, red wine, grape skins, green tea, almonds, onions, blueberries and broccoli.
Cardona, F., Andrés-Lacueva, C., Tulipani, S., Tinahones, F.J. and Queipo-Ortuño, M.I., 2013. Benefits of polyphenols on gut microbiota and implications in human health. J Nutr Biochem [online], 24 (8), 1415-22.
Costabile, A., Klinder, A., Fava, F., Napolitano, A., Fogliano, V., Leonard, C., Gibson, G.R. and Tuohy, K.M., 2008. Whole-grain wheat breakfast cereal has a prebiotic effect on the human gut microbiota: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study. Br J Nutr [online], 99 (1), 110-20.