Food for Thought: Gut Health

In the last couple of years, gut health has become a “hot topic” as nutrition research has continued to show that there is a notable connection between our gut and our overall health and well-being. It has been concluded that the health of our gut can have an impact on our mental health, immune health, heart health and more.

The gut microbiota (also known as the microbiome or gut micro-organism) is a collection of trillions of bacteria found in the gut. While many of these bacteria are beneficial for the body and help us to digest food, some bacteria may be harmful to the body and this is something that we all need to be aware of.

Probiotics are the the living microorganisms (aka good bacteria) that support a healthy gut. The average healthy person does not need to supplement with a probiotic for a healthy gut. However, in some situations a probiotic capsule may be recommended, e.g. after a course of antibiotics or after a severe spell of diarrohea. When choosing a probiotic, choose a probiotic that has been researched and proven to be beneficial. Check out and choose a strain that has shown benefits in a clinical trial. This way you can ensure you’re not wasting your money on probiotics that are marketed as opposed to being beneficial.

Prebiotics are the source of energy for the probiotics. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that feeds our gut micro-organisms. All plant-based foods contain fibre, in one form or another. While not every fibre is a prebiotic, there are many types of fibre that are prebiotic and by eating a varied diet, we can ensure that we get lots of different types of fibre for the gut microbiota to feast one. Many foods that we eat every day are rich in prebiotics, e.g. garlic, onions, wholegrains, legumes.

A varied diet will ensure that you consume a range of prebiotics to feed your probiotics. In general, a person does not need to supplement with prebiotics. In fact, unsupervised use of prebiotics may exacerbate existing digestive issues such as Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS).

IBS is an area of ongoing research. It is a disorder of the digestive that affects many people in many different ways. Symptoms vary from person to person and can include diarrohea, constipation or a combination of both. Certain foods, stress and anxiety are just some triggers of IBS symptoms. In simple terms, each person will have a series of symptoms that are specific to them. If you are concerned about IBS, seek advise from a registered dietitian. In some situations, a dietitian may deem it appropriate to work through the low FODMAP diet to identify which types of fibre trigger your IBS. This is a highly complex diet which should only be considered under medical supervision. Moreover, diet is not always the answer. 

Fermented foods contain live micro-organisms (probiotics) which may be beneficial to the gut. These fermented foods include kombucha, keifer and saurkraut. Moreover, Lactobacillus is a type of probiotic found in yogurts.

To help support good gut health, it is important to include as many plant-based foods in your diet each week as possible. I challenge you this week to keep a log of different plant-based foods that you each. These will include all fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes, nothing forgetting that different colours of the same vegetable will be counted as two different plant-based foods. Each week, aim to increase your list of plant-based foods by 10% until you are eating 30 different plant-based foods per week. This is a challenge that I set for myself and I started out with these 26 different plant-based foods.

If you want to keep up to date with the latest news and research in gut health, I recommend you follow Dr. Megan Rossi on Twitter and Instagram and visit her website. And, if you have enjoyed this content, please leave a comment below and share your thoughts.