The Gut Microbiome
The gut. That long windy wormy looking tube housed within your abdominal walls runs a good 8.5 metres. If only our rolls of fat could squish into such a small space the same way. Our intestines are a hot house for a huge network of highly functioning cells and bacteria. Together they are working symbiotically to keep our immune systems and general health in check.
With terms like ‘leaky gut’, ‘food intolerances’, ‘good bacteria’, ‘bad bacteria’, gluten free diet, dairy free diet, low carb, or high fat, pre biotics and pro biotics all over the news… it's no wonder we can't make head nor tail of the best diet for our bodies. However, increasing evidence suggests that our gut microbiome plays a very important role in overall health, wellbeing and even chronic disease.
As we eat food our gut microbiology adapts and changes. There is greater understanding that highly processed foods such as meats (ham, salami) or wheat (bread, pasta), high sugar loads and even dairy can alter the balance of bacteria essential for food digestion and absorption. In turn this is thought to influence all manner of conditions from obesity, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory conditions and certain cancers. It’s well worth making an effort to care for your gut the way you would your skin or hair.
How can we improve gut health?
1. Eat a broad range of vegetables.
Hands down, veggies win. The more you can eat the better. Dr Rangan Chatterjee alluded to ‘eating the colours of the rainbow’ in his book The Four Pillars, and he’s completely right. The broader range of different species of whole food we can consume, the greater impact on gut flora we can build. In addition, it’s delicious, healthy and high in fibre which has lots of other added benefits. Aim to make vegetables 50% of your plate at every meal.
2. Eat more legumes
Pulses, lentils and the like are a rich source of fibre, and vitamins such as magnesium, folate and iron. They are also a great supplier of bacteria such as Bifidobacteria, a disease fighter!
3. Lap up yoghurt, kimchi and kefir.
Lactobacilli is a bacteria found in the fermented foods such as yoghurt and kefir. It is thought to greatly reduce Enterobacteriaceae. This was associated with lower rates of inflammatory conditions such as IBS, joint pains and other chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Some individuals who ate small amounts of yoghurt daily were found to help improve issues such as lactose intolerance by slowly altering gut flora.
4. Pay attention to the prebiotic foods
The good bacteria in our colons help us fight cancer and heart disease. Prebiotics help feed these bugs, they love rich fibrous foods such as garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus and artichoke, apples, and banana. Having a good variety of both fruit and vegetables will balance sugar levels out and help prevent elevated cholesterol.
5. Consume more whole grain carbohydrates
Grain such as quinoa, bulgar wheat and rye are all whole grain carbohydrates. They are unrefined and digest most effectively in the large intestine. As this happens there is a promotion in growth of Bifidobacteria, lactobacilli and Bacteroidetes. They help with weight management by creating a sense of fullness, reduce inflammation and also heart disease.
6. Probiotics or not?
Probiotics have many added health benefits after a period of illness or medication. They are also known as ‘friendly bacteria’. Probiotics temporarily replenish gut flora helping the gut restore its natural balance. This can help in the short term and aid metabolism. In the case of those that have used antibiotics recently, or are using medication which alters gut bacteria there is some added benefit.
7. Sleep well
Resting your gut from anywhere from 12-16 hours per day is thought to allow your gut microbiome to rejuvenate for the next day’s onslaught of foods/toxins we throw at it. Late night snacking and drinking never allows time for the good guys to regenerate and hence we often end in a cycle of bloating, gas, and food intolerance. Getting the zzz’s in is a perfect way to allow the toxins of the day to be eliminated effortlessly. As you rest, your natural inflammatory markers can also reduce back to normal.
One huge benefit is that we can eat our way to better gut health quite easily and inexpensively. We just need to do it and stick with it. A primarily plant based diet, rich in pulses, legumes and whole grains will provide our gut with the perfect playground to protect the rest of our bodies from chronic disease, cancers and inflammation.
To discuss your gut health in greater detail, book an appointment with one of our experienced GPs.