Happy New Year and happy gut health month everyone!
Before you start getting concerned about my memory, I do know it’s February BUT because we haven’t seen each other yet in 2022, it is acceptable to still give out the wishes. That is my interpretation and I am STICKING to it.
I hope that your year has gotten off to a cracking start and that you have started to settle into a groove that suits you. There are many things that we may not have control over this coming year (and the last couple) but let’s keep reminding ourselves looking after ourselves is something we do have a say in.
This brings us to one of the most popular topics in the world of health and nutrition. Gut health. This hot topic has never been more discussed and the connection between our gut, broader health and our brain is becoming increasingly clearer as time goes on. I have written about gut health here previously but given that February is all about gut health, it seemed only right that we revisit the subject.
One in five Australians are affected by gut health problems like constipation, IBS and bloating. This can have such a huge impact on daily life. So, let’s take a look at the gut.
What Has The Microbiome Got To Do With Gut Health ?
The gut microbiome refers to the different microorganisms living in our gastrointestinal tract, including bacteria, viruses, yeast, parasites and fungi. There are 38 trillion microbiota in our microbiome, most of which live in our large intestine or colon. If we lay our intestines flat – it would be large enough to cover the area of a tennis court! By the way, its not a good idea to test this in practical terms.
Both good and bad bacteria live side by side in our intestinal tract. I often imagine them having a punch up.
Like our fingerprints, we each have a unique gut microbiome colonised by approximately 160 bacterial species but we only share a small number of these with each other. The function of the microbiota is not completely understood but research is showing us that if we look after our internal environment, we increase the good bacteria in our gut and this can have a substantial impact on our physical and mental well-being.
Good bacteria produce compounds important for our gut health and overall wellbeing. These compounds can:
- Improve the absorption of nutrients from our food.
- Reduce inflammation.
- Strengthen our immunity – 90% of our immune function is in our gut and alterations to our gut wall can result in inflammation, irritation and ‘leaky’ gut. This allows undigested food and toxins to flood into the bloodstream and this has a negative impact on our health.
- Regulate our mood.
- Protect against cancers, particularly of the bowel.
Less diversity or numbers of good bacteria can mean that the ‘bad’ bacteria can take over and this can lead to inflammation in our bodies.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are live bacteria that are naturally found in our gut and in some foods. They improve our health by reducing the number of harmful bacteria that may survive in our gut. We can add good communities of microbes to our gut by eating fermented foods high in good bacteria or probiotics such as:
- Yoghurt with live cultures – look for 1 billion probiotics per serve (CFU’s)
- Kefir – fermented milk or water-based drink that usually has around 30 beneficial strains of good bacteria. Check out more on what I think about kefir here.
- Kombucha – fermented black or green tea drink
- Fresh kimchi – Korean fermented vegetables
- Fresh sauerkraut -fermented cabbage
What about prebiotics?
Prebiotics are very different to probiotics. Prebiotics are mostly soluble fibres and resistant starches that act as fuel for our good bacteria in the large intestine or colon. They are fermented by gut bacteria and boost the balance of our microbiome to be healthier. Some foods that are naturally high in prebiotics, include:
Vegetables – cooked then cooled potato, leek, asparagus, garlic, onion
Fruit – green banana, apples, pears, watermelon, nectarines, dried fruit (e.g. dates, figs)
Wholegrains – barley, rye, wheat, oats, lupin
Legumes – chickpeas, lentils, red kidney beans, baked beans, soybeans. Check out my thoughts and recipe ideas on how you can use legumes.
Nuts – cashews, pistachio nuts
Are You In The Mood?
Emerging research is showing promising evidence of the link between the gut and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. This research suggests that those suffering these conditions have some gut bacteria in common. Fascinating right?
Aside from these findings, we know that the gastrointestinal tract is responsible for producing 80-90% of serotonin – our happy hormone. Disturbance to our gut can affect the production of serotonin, which can have a major impact on our mood and therefore our mental health in the longer term.
Heads Up: Try adding some of these pre and probiotics to your daily intake for a healthy gut and brain. All this extra fibre is very helpful BUT don’t forget to add plenty of water to assist all this fibre getting through your intestinal tract!
For some fabulous free resources for everything Gut Health click right here.
Until Next time…..