Why should I care about improving my gut health?
It’s not just about great digestive health. You might have heard of the gut-brain cycle: how the gut environment impacts our mood and in turn, our mood can affect our gut health.
Our vagus nerve steps in here to send signals from our brain to our large intestine. So when we feel an emotion, particularly heightened stress, it can negatively change the microbiota in our gut. Considering there’s around 2kg of bacteria taking up residence here, we need it to be functioning healthily!
Microbiota are also responsible for helping to bolster our immune system, contribute to our metabolism, reduce risk of depression and anxiety, reduce risk of chronic diseases and produce vitamins! These bacteria also create a working environment for our intestinal walls where optimal nutrient absorption can occur, and thank goodness they do, as this is the only area for nutrient absorption.
Is microbiota the same as gut bacteria?
Yep! There are many ‘sciencey’ words that basically mean the same thing – similarly to the foods that can help nourish our gut colony.
What are probiotic foods?
In a nutshell: foods with live bacteria or cultures (often with hard to pronounce names). Yoghurt, kimchi, kefir and kombucha are all created from a fermentation process and contain live bacteria or cultures. The trick here is VARIETY.
- yoghurt with your breakfast
- swap your Coke Zero for a kombucha
- toss some kimchi in your salad
What about prebiotics?
Similar to probiotics these foods will positively influence a healthy gut environment, and chances are, you’re already consuming plenty of these!
Whole grains, vegetables and fruit all provide different carbohydrates that promote good gut health. Sourdough is a delicious example, as bread production has its own fermentation process. Yet another reason to treat yourself to a smashed avo breakfast this weekend.
Amongst the carbohydrates that we are probably familiar with, there are others that we cannot digest in our gut that instead serve a different purpose. Fibre includes insoluble fibre, soluble fibre and resistant starch. Resistant starch has produced a name for itself due to its ability to interact with bacteria and produce ‘recovery substances’ that will repair our intestinal walls. This is very important as any type of inflammation (like stress or intolerances) can damage our intestinal walls and reduce nutrient absorption.
Should I start with a gut detox?
Luckily not! Again VARIETY will help you go a long way in regards to achieving a healthy gut! Variety of fibres, prebiotic foods and probiotic foods are involved. Fibre is found in nearly all of the food groups; whole grains, fruit, vegetables and nuts and seeds. Barley is a rare find as its natural state contains all three types of fibre. A goal of 25g of fibre per day (try an app like Easy Diet Diary to measure your daily intake) can be a substantial amount of fibre to promote good gut health without the need to seek further probiotic foods or probiotic capsules.
Should I be taking a probiotic capsule?
Not generally. If we include variety into our diet and enough fibre our body can do the rest. Factors such as stress can increase the need for a probiotic capsule in order to help reduce symptoms of bloating or pain. Seeking stress management options will also alleviate the disruption to the gut environment. If you have been diagnosed with an intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome or another bowel disease a daily probiotic is usually beneficial.
There are many, many, people suffering from symptoms without a diagnosis. If this is you – have a chat with a Dietitian as it could be one small tweak to reduce symptoms and get the smile back on your dial!
Tara Davenport is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and an Accredited Sports Dietitian who uses a wide range of techniques to optimise your nutrition, your health, and to support a positive relationship with food. She takes a holistic non-diet approach involving intuitive eating styles, mindfulness as well as nutrition to fuel performance.