Guest blog post written by Isabelle Fry, Registered Dietitian
Gut health is what everyone is talking about at the moment. There is a lot of information available, but, unfortunately, not all of it is trustworthy.
All those buzzwords can be quite overwhelming: prebiotics, microbiome, microbiota, probiotics, polyphenols!?
Isabelle Fry has years of experience within the NHS and as a freelance dietitian, and has gained a lot of valuable knowledge about gut health. In this article, she shares five top nutrition tips for gut health that are achievable and realistic!
Before we look into the gut health tips, here is a brief description of some common gut health terms.
When we eat foods containing fibre, it isn’t broken down in the small intestine; it makes its way to the large intestine where it feeds the gut bacteria and is broken down into short chain fatty acids. These short chain fatty acids have several roles: providing fuel for our gut lining; contributing to the balance of blood sugar levels; and stimulating our immune system too.
Fibre also helps to provide bulk to our stools and regulate our bowel movements. It's mainly found in fruit and vegetables and wholegrains.
Prebiotics are a type of dietary fibre that feed the friendly gut bacteria.
Prebiotics are found naturally in many different plants; a few examples include: nectarines, dates, beetroot, onions, almonds, cashews, chickpeas, butterbeans, chamomile tea.
Probiotics are the ‘good bacteria’ that are found in foods and supplements which emerging evidence suggests could be beneficial for our health.
If we take probiotics in through our diet, this can boost the amount of good gut bacteria living within our gut.
Food sources of probiotics include: Plain yoghurt, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha. Some people also choose to take a probiotic supplement.
The microbiota refers to communities or groups of bacteria, fungi, and viruses living in our gut. It's the genes within these groups that determine what they are able to do within the gut and how they interact with the human cells.
The microbiome refers to the genetic material within the microbiota (described above), which have different interactions within the gut.
Polyphenols are a type of plant chemical which include flavanols (these have been linked to the health benefits in dark chocolate), and anthocyanin (which gives berries their beautiful colours).
There is ongoing research into the benefits of polyphenols on gut health, but they have been linked to a reduced risk of cancer and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.
Some sources of polyphenols include: green tea, cocoa, blueberries, raspberries, flaxseed, olives, spinach and extra virgin olive oil
Gut health boosting nutrition tips!
1. Eat more plant foods
This is something we should be doing for our gut health. Plant foods contain fibre, prebiotics and polyphenols – which our gut loves. You don't need to become vegan or vegetarian, but try to increase your plant intake, aiming for a plant-based diet.
2. Diversify those plants
The more plants that you eat, the greater the variety of nutrients you consume – which will benefit your gut bacteria.
The first step would be to ensure that you are including your 5 portions of fruit and vegetables each day. It's also a good idea to choose wholegrain/unprocessed versions of carbohydrates.
You could then start to work on the diversity side of things by increasing the variety of fruit, vegetables and grains consumed!
3. Eat more whole foods
By having more whole foods, and less of the processed variety – you will consume more fibre, more nutrients, resulting in happier gut bacteria.
Whole foods could include: wholegrain breads; barley; rye, buckwheat, spelt.
4. Include beans and pulses
These are packed with prebiotics and fibre. They are nutritious, easy to include in our diets, and tasty too!
5. Have fun with fermented foods
Fermented foods will, more often than not, contain probiotics. They're a great way to boost our gut microbiota, and they also offer a variety of flavours and textures to our diet.
Some easily accessible fermented foods include: plain yoghurt; kefir; sauerkraut; and kombucha. You can buy fermented foods from the supermarket or even have a go at making your own at home. Give them a try!
By incorporating these suggestions as well as working on those all-important lifestyle changes such as improving sleep quality, increasing activity (where possible), spending more time outdoors, and reducing stress – the gut will be a healthier and happier place; resulting in a healthier, happier us.