Christine Bailey, one of the nutritionists we work with, outlines some simple ways to improve your gut health…
We share our bodies with microbes. The collection of bacteria living in and on our body known as the ‘microbiome’ consists of about 100 trillion bacterial cells, the highest concentration of which is in your gut. They can influence our mood, metabolism, immune response and much more. So it will be of no surprise that if you are looking to improve your overall health it’s important to our gut microbes healthy.
The diversity and number of these bacteria is influenced by our diet, genetics and lifestyle. Unfortunately many people have a depleted microbiome because of a diet that’s high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, alcohol and artificial sweeteners.
The good news is that simple tweaks to your diet can have a profound effect on your gut microbes. There are also specific foods that are particularly beneficial for our gut.
Prebiotics – the benefits of plant fibre and insects
Prebiotics are non-digestible plant fibres that have been shown to promote the growth, diversity and activity of our beneficial bacteria. Often our diets are lacking in fibre so give your beneficial bacteria a boost with nourishing fibre rich foods. Good choices include oats, nuts and seeds, bananas, rice bran, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, fennel and many other fruits, vegetables and wholegrains. Chicory root which is often used in supplements and available as chicory ‘coffee’ is a good source of inulin, a type of prebiotic fibre that has been linked to increased weight loss and improved gut health. Recent studies have found that crickets, contain fibres such as chitin that may also boost our gut flora and lower inflammation too.
A number of foods are rich in antioxidants called polyphenols. These compounds have many health benefits including improving the number of your gut microbes. Top polyphenol rich foods include pomegranate, blueberries, flaxseed, apples, dark chocolate, certain nuts (e.g almonds, walnuts), tea and olive oil.
Fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut are an easy way to boost your gut flora . Consuming probiotic rich foods regularly has been shown to increase levels of short chain fatty acids like butyrate too. Butyrate has been shown to have a number of health benefits including lowering inflammation and supporting brain health.
What to Avoid
Just as certain foods can benefit our gut, others can have a negative effect. Sugar and artificial sweeteners are just a couple of examples. Alcohol and caffeine are known to irritate the gut as well as disrupt blood sugar levels which in turn can impact our gut flora. There are also a range of foods that some people find more difficult to digest. These are known as high FODMAP foods that can trigger a range of symptoms including bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. High FODMAP foods include gluten (found in wheat, barley, rye), some dairy products (like milk, soft cheese) beans, pulses, onion and garlic. If you regularly suffer with gut symptoms then keeping a food dairy may help you to identify key triggers.
Watch Your Stress
We all know that feeling in the pit of our stomach when we are stressed. Stress can disturb the balance of our gut flora, promote inflammation and affect digestion which can make people more prone to ongoing gut disorders and other health conditions. Take time out each day to relax and unwind. Be more mindful when you eat – take time to sit and eat your meals rather than eating on the go. An effective way to help distress is to take an Epsom Salt bath – add 1-2 cups of Epsom salts in a warm bath and soak for 15-20 minutes – great for children too.
Get Quality Sleep
A lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can also disrupt our gut microbes. Shift working for example, which has been linked to an increase risk of obesity and blood sugar imbalances has been linked to changes in our gut flora.
Exercise – But Not Too Much
Want to give your gut bacteria a boost? Then try exercise. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly have a greater diversity of gut microbes compared to more sedentary people. But don’t overdo it – overtraining may have a negative effect on the gut and could aggravate inflammation.
Try Time Restricted Eating
Time restricted eating or intermittent fasting is popular for many reasons and now studies have shown it may benefit our gut microbes. One of the easiest ways to incorporate this is to eat your evening meal early (around 6pm) and push your breakfast back (9am or later) to allow a longer fasting time overnight. Another benefit of eating early is that it can help avoid digestive discomfort or reflux issues overnight.
Research is revealing more and more how important a diverse and balanced microbiome is for our overall health and wellbeing so it makes sense to keep your gut healthy and happy.
About the author:
Christine is an award winning degree qualified Functional Nutritional Therapist, Chef and Author with over 20 years of experience in the health, corporate and food industry. With a first class degree in Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy (BSc) and additional training by the Institute of Functional Medicine, Christine is an experienced nutrition practitioner and speaker working in the public and corporate sector. Winner of Coeliac UK Chef of the Year award Christine is well known for her expertise in nutrition, sports nutrition, healthy eating and developing health foods, products and recipes.