Gut health is central to our health, and what we eat makes a massive difference to the balance of bacteria we carry around with us. Did you know:
We have around 100 trillion microbes in our body (That is more than the number of cells we have!)
The bugs in our guts weigh around 4lbs
Microbes are made up of bacteria, fungi, parasites (including worms) and viruses.
BUT, before you get freaked out about hosting all these little bugs here are some facts about how important they are:
They help us make essential vitamins (e.g. B vitamins)
They help us break down out food and can control elements of our metabolism
The bugs help to train up our immune system, and interact with our nervous system and hormones
We cannot thrive without the microbes in our gut. Experiments have been carried out on sterile mice with no microbes in the gut at all, and whilst they live, they cannot thrive. These mice don’t have a strong immune system, or brain health, and they don’t reproduce well. They also need to eat 1/3 more calories to survive because the microbes help us get energy from our food.
Top 5 gut health tips
1. Eat more vegetables
The beneficial gut microbes inside love fibre, and you can get a lot of fibre from vegetables. So as well as all absorbing the minerals and vitamins that promote health within the body, the bugs love your vegetables too. Many people aren't meeting the 5 day target. In fact on average in the UK it's 3.6.
A portion of veg is around a handful (or 80g) and for leafy green veg it's two handfuls.
If you’re getting your 5 a day, can you make it 6 a day?
2. Include pre-biotics in your diet.
You might have heard of probiotics, which are healthy beneficial live bacteria. But what are pre-biotics? These are foods that provide the good bacteria with the fuel they need.
Some types of insoluble fibre are not well digested by our bodies, so the content travels down to the lower intestine where it becomes perfect food for the microbes.
Ideal pre-biotics are green bananas, leeks, artichokes, onions, garlic, chicory, and asparagus.
Eating these help the beneficial gut bacteria to thrive.
3. Eat fermented foods.
Fermentation is the partial digestion of sugars in the food with live bacteria. Including foods like sauerkraut (cabbage), kefir (fermented milk or water), or tempeh (tofu) can help to top up your bacterial balance by adding in live bacteria. Live yoghurt can also help (but only the sugar free version with Live written on!)
You can easily make sauerkraut by grating some cabbage and adding salt, and leaving in a glass jar for 7-10 days. It's very cheap and quick to make, and is an excellent addition to most meals.
4. Add variety - aim for 30 foods a week
The more varieties of gut microbes we have the better. Most people in Europe and the US have a poor mix of microbes, most likely due to eating the same foods all the time. Some research has shown that eating 30 different foods a week will help to develop healthy gut bacteria.
Eating a wide range of foods is the best way to get a good mix of microbes.
Include a different vegetable or fruit you don’t normally eat, or include a new type of bean this week? Swap to a new type of fish, or try new spices.
Write down 1-30 on a piece of paper (or print out the PDF) and note down every food you eat in a week. If you eat bread you can only mark down wheat once (so eating pasta, or another sandwich will still only take one place on the list). If you easily reach 30 foods go for 40!
Mix it up for the bugs!
5. Cut back on alcohol
it's often an area we don't want to tackle, but alcohol can make a big difference to your digestion. Alcohol may cause inflammation in the gut, which in turn increase intestinal permeability (sometimes called leaky gut).
Leaky gut is when particles from our food and other toxins cross into the blood through gaps in the intestinal lining. These can create a localised inflammatory response then travel to the liver where they can create an inflammatory response. So you might feel you react to certain foods more when you've had a drink.
A big binge on alcohol can also damage the microbes in the gut in the short term.
A little bit of red wine has been shown to increase the beneficial bacteria, probably due to the antioxidants in the skin from the grapes. So a little glass of red wine in moderation can help the bugs, but high levels of alcohol can affect digestive health.