Gut health is a hot topic in the world of nutrition right now! And for good reason. As research is conducted in this relatively new field of nutrition, more and more knowledge is being uncovered about how important our gut health is for the rest of our body.
Your gut, also known as your gastrointestinal tract, is a large, complex system of organs responsible for the ingestion, digestion, absorption and elimination of food. Without it functioning well, we would lack the energy and nutrients to survive and would have a build-up of waste products in the body.
The gastrointestinal tract is essentially one long tube, from your mouth to your anus, and as such, it’s the outside would, inside of you. Due to the fact that a huge range of foods enters your gut through regular eating, it’s exposed to outside toxins, pollution and most importantly germs, bacteria and other microorganisms.
To help combat the large exposure to potentially harmful bugs, the majority of your body’s immune system resides in the gut, that way it’s raring to go, just in case a nasty bug makes its way inside. And we all know the consequences of when a nasty bug does make it. Hello gastro!
Along with the immune system, your gastrointestinal tract, particularly your large intestine, is populated with billions of bacteria, creating a mini ecosystem of life inside you, known as the gut microbiome. It’s pretty incredible. The balance, variety and health of these microorganisms living inside you can have a profound effect on both your short and long term health.
These organisms essentially ‘feed’ on the leftover food that makes it through digestion and absorption and finds itself in the large intestine. This is called fermentation and the bi-product of this is production of a range of beneficial chemicals thought to promote health in the body.
However, this can only occur if what is left over from our digestion is the kind of foods that bacteria want to eat and that promote the growth of healthy bacteria, the ones we know are beneficial for our health.
So, here are the top 4 keys to promoting gut health and the growth of your healthy bacteria.
Eat adequate dietary fibre
Meeting your daily fibre needs is the king of gut health advice. If you do nothing else with your diet, except focus on ensuring you’re getting enough fibre – consistently, every day – you’ll do well. Not only does fibre promote the growth and health of beneficial gut bacteria but it also helps with long term healthy weight management, reducing total cholesterol and helping manage your appetite and blood sugar levels.
You need 25-30g of fibre per day and you’ll find it in all minimally processed plant-based foods: vegetables, fruit, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds.
Eat a wide variety of vegetables
Vegetables are rich in fibre, which is why they’re so important. They’re also rich in phytochemicals, plant-based chemicals which promote health in our body. They are great to eat. Research shows that individuals who eat a wider range of vegetables daily, have a more diverse gut microbiome than those that don’t. And the more diverse your microbiome, the better.
Try to eat 3-5 different types of vegetables per day and then challenge yourself to eat an even wider variety of vegetables across the whole week! You could even play a game of vegetable bingo, how many can you tick off in the week?
Include pre-biotic foods regularly
Pre-biotics are foods that contain certain types of dietary fibre and carbohydrates that are readily fermented by bacteria in your gut. These are foods we know that beneficial microorganisms love, so although eating enough fibre is important for gut health, so is ensuring you’re getting a wide variety of different types of fibre, particularly these types.
Include foods rich in pre-biotics regularly: garlic, onion, apples, pears, leek, asparagus, bananas, barley, oats, linseeds, etc. Focussing on including a wide variety of fruit and vegetables is the key here.
Go easy on the animal products
Research shows that a high intake of meat and other animal-based foods, combined with a low intake of plant foods does not create a gut environment that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria.
The key message is not about whether you eat animal products or not, they do have a place in our modern diet, and minimally processed food options can add beneficial nutrients to our diet, however we just don’t want to build our diets out of animal based foods and these food being the primarily thing that we’re eating.
Aim for 50% of your main meals to be vegetables and if you can, 2-3 times a week swap out some meat for a plant-based protein like tofu, legumes or beans.
The Healthy Eating Clinic are specialists in gut health and can help you manage a wide variety of symptoms and challenges through good nutrition.
If you’d like to hear more about gut health and other hot topics in nutrition, be sure to subscribe to Kate Freeman’s new podcast, The Daily Dollop. She’s a registered nutritionist and the founder and managing director of The Healthy eating Clinic and hopes to inspire you with sensible, easy to understand nutrition advice in a 15 minute daily podcast!