For those of you who’ve been following my blog since its incarnation 12 months ago, you’ll notice that I’ve developed a slight obsession with my gut health. This is because over the past few years scientific evidence has revealed that events going on within the gut, and specifically within the microbiome, have a dramatic effect in terms of virtually every important metabolic process that occurs within the human body.
For those of you not yet up to speed, here’s a quick recap of why I’m so impressed by this area of science (and the foods I eat to support my gut):
What Is Your Microbiome?
The microbiome is the unique eco-system of more than 100 trillion microbes (bacteria) that are living on and in your body. If this sounds alarming or gross, stay with me! Each of us has a unique and varied collection of living bacteria, which is the result of our history (i.e. antibiotic use), our diet/lifestyle (i.e. how many vegetables we eat), and the environment we live in.
The Microbiome And Health
Whilst new scientific discoveries are being made almost daily, the area I’m most impressed by is the research on the gut’s link to the immune system – apparently 70-80 % of our immune tissue resides in our digestive system and can be supported by good gut health. Also key is the role gut microbes play in regulating the degree of inflammation in the body, with inflammation being linked to diseases such as Alzheimer’s, coronary artery disease, diabetes and cancer. Meanwhile, an incorrect balance or absence of certain bacteria has been linked to an inability to lose weight or maintain weight loss. The gut has also been termed the “second brain” because it plays a critical role in mental and emotional functioning, directly influencing levels of stress, anxiety and depression, as well as memory, decision-making and learning. Pretty amazing, right?
Supporting The Microbiome
I know in the past I’ve shared what to look out for in a daily probiotic, but along with having a diet high in fibre and low in sugar, it’s also crucial to eat plenty of pre and probiotics in order to maintain optimal gut health.
Foods Rich in Prebiotics
While there has been much attention given in recent years to the importance of probiotics, we are only just beginning to see an expansion in the medical literature clarifying the importance of prebiotics. Prebiotics are the non digestible, plant fibers found in certain foods (inulin being the main prebiotic compound). By arriving undigested in your gut, prebiotics enable the bacteria in your gut to feed, multiply, and fully populate your gut.
The best prebiotic foods to include in your diet are:
- Jerusalem artichokes (full of inulin – but be warned – they have a nickname *fartichokes* for a reason!)
- Under-ripe bananas
- Kiwi fruit
Replenishing With Probiotics
Probiotics are the living bacteria that restore and renew our microbiome. They reduce inflammation in the intestines, improve the quality of the gut and help bolster our existing colonies. Fermented foods are natural probiotics which help diversity the flora living in your gut. It’s best to introduce fermented foods into your diet slowly (eg. 1 tbsp per meal) as some people may experience excess gas and bloating while the environment of the gut adapts to the change. Be aware that ‘pickled’ does not equal fermented. Pickled foods are preserved in liquids like vinegar or brine, usually with added sugars. They do not contain “live” organisms. Also try not to go overboard on fermented drinks. For example, kombucha only contains a very small amount of probiotic so it’s not something you’d want to drink everyday.
Fermented foods to include in your diet include:
- Unsweetened yogurt
Gut Health And The Future Of Medicine
Ultimately the new findings on “gut health” have opened up vast areas of opportunity for lifestyle modification so that people can support their own health and, hopefully, prevent disease. In the not-too-distant-future I predict that doctors will start addressing and supporting a person’s unique microbiome in the treatment of nearly all diseases. Watch this space!