You’d almost have to have been living under a rock if you hadn’t heard the term “gut health” being bandied around. Gut health has become such a popular topic of conversion for good reason – taking care of our guts, or more specifically, the little guys living in there is legitimately the key to all health.
The human body contains trillions of bacteria, and these bacteria colonise not only our digestive system but also our mouth, hair, skin, and genitalia. The largest reservoir of microbes resides within our gut, weighing about a kilo. And it is the balance of the microflora within our gut that has been linked to so many aspects of health including digestion1, mental health2, immunity3, weight balance4, skin5, respiratory function5, cardiovascular health6 and even cancer7. Hippocrates wasn’t wrong when he said over 2000 years ago “all disease begins in the gut”.
The balance of the gut microbiome is heavily influenced by the food we eat, so I thought I’d share some of the simplest ways you can nourish your guts at home.
- Fermented foods: fermented foods are a daily non-negotiable for me. They are a natural probiotic, seeding our guts with a wide variety of both common and unique species of bacteria. Fermented foods are also rich in phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals and the fermentation process makes these more bioavailable to us8. I’m going to stick my neck and our admit that making my own fermented foods freaks me out a little, so they are one of the only food items I choose to buy as opposed to make myself. Some of my favourite fermented foods include:
- Sauerkraut, kimchi and/or other fermented veggies: Sauerkraut and kimchi are most often fermented cabbage with various herbs and spices; however, you can ferment anything from garlic to cucumber to beetroot. My current favourites are this one and this one. If you do purchase your fermented vegetables ensure you get them from the fridge section of your health food store or grocer, as the ones on the shelves have been pasteurised and as such won’t contain any live bacteria.
- Kombucha: kombucha is the end result of the ancient process of fermenting tea. It’s often fizzy, always delicious, and is a great alternative to alcohol. When choosing a kombucha be mindful of the sugar content, as some brands contain more than others. I generally always choose this brand.
- Kefir: Traditionally kefir is fermented milk (of which there are a few great brands on the market), however if dairy is a problem for you, you can get water and coconut water kefir.
- Yogurt: yogurt is a great source of probiotic goodness. Go for organic and biodynamic sources, and ensure the label states that it contains “live cultures”.
- Fermented cashew cheese: this is exactly as it sounds; cheese made from cashews that has been fermented. This stuff is actual heaven. Not only is it a great alternative to dairy but it is loaded with probiotics (and it tastes amazing!). My favourites are this one and this one.
- Prebiotic foods: prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that selectively stimulate the growth or activity of our gut microbiome. This means that they pass through the upper digestive tract undigested and upon reaching the large intestine and colon they are fermented by our gut bacteria. Essentially they are a food source for our good bugs. Prebiotics work with probiotics to help maintain the balance and variety of microflora, and studies show that they are very good at increasing levels of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria. Prebiotic foods include bananas, onion, raw garlic, artichoke, leeks, and asparagus.
- Fibre and resistant starch: many of us are not getting enough fibre (and at the risk of ruffling some feathers) especially those on a very low carbohydrate or paleo style diet. Those who consume a diet rich in fibre have been shown to have a greater diversity of gut microflora when compared to those who consume a low carbohydrate diet9. Resistant starch is similar to prebiotics in that it is remains undigested as it passes through our system. The fermentation of fibre and resistant starch within our gut creates short-chain fatty acids, and these are essential for the maintenance of our gut wall, immune function, metabolic function and weight, gene expression and play a role in reducing inflammation10. As mentioned above, prebiotics are an excellent source of fibre, as are legumes, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds (chia and flax seeds are personal fibre favourites of mine). Resistant starch specifically is found in beans and legumes (lentils and chickpeas seem to be well tolerated by most), oats, unripe bananas, cooked and cooled potatoes and rice, and whole grains.
When it comes down to it a varied diet is key to both a balanced gut microbiome and to optimal health. If you’d like any help with optimising your gut microbiome I’d love to help you. Click here to book an appointment with me.
(1) Putignani, L., Del Chierico, F., Vernocchi, P., Cicala, M., Cucchiara. S. & Dallapiccola, B. (2016). Gut microbiota dysbiosis as risk and premorbid factors of IBD and IBS along the childhood-adulthood transition. Inflammatory Bowel Disease, 22(22), 487-504.
(2) Dawson, S. L., Dash, S. R. & Jacka, F. N. (2016). The importance of diet and gut health to the treatment and prevention of mental health disorders. International Review of Neurobiology, 131, 325-346.
(3) Kaba, A. M., Srinivasan, N. & Maloy, K. J. (2014). Modulation of immune development and function by intestinal microbiotia. Trends in Immunology, 35(11), 507-517.
(4) Torres-Fuentes, C., Schellekens, H., Dinan, T. G. & Cryan, J. F. (2017). The microbiota-gt-brain axis in obesity. The Lancet, 24.
(5) Penders, J., Stobberingh, E. E., van den Brandt, P. A. & Thijs, C. (2007). The role of the intestinal microbiota in the development of atopic disorders. Allergy, 62(11), 1223-1236.
(6) Tang, W. H., Kitai, T. & Hazen, S. L. (2017). Gut microbiota in cardiovascular health and disease. Circulation Research, 120(7), 1183-1196.
(7) Seidel, D. V., Azcárate-Peril, M. A., Chapkin, R. S. & Turner, N. D. (2017). Shaping functional gut microbiota using dietary bioactives to reduce colon cancer. Seminars in Cancer Biology, Epub.
(8) Scheers, N., Rossander-Hulthen, L., Torsdottir, I. & Sandberg, A. S. (2016). Increased iron bioavailability from lactic-fermented vegetables is likely an effect of promoting the formation of ferric iron. European Journal of Nutrition, 55(1), 373-382.
(9) Kuo, S. M. (2013). The interplay between fibre and the intestinal microbiome in the inflammatory response. Advances in Nutrition, 4, 16-28.
(10) Rios-Covian, D., Ruas-Madiedo, P., Margolles, A., Gueimonde, M., de los Reyes-Gavilan, C. G. & Salazar, N. (2016). Intestinal short chain fatty acids and their link with diet and human health. Frontiers in Microbiology, 17, Epub.