Updated: Jul 18, 2022
The health of your gut is being increasingly linked to your overall wellbeing. Studies suggest strong links between gut health and conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, and obesity. There is also growing interest around the link between gut health and mental health.
What is the gut microbiome?
Your ‘gut' refers to your gastro-intestinal tract – the route that food travels through your body - and includes your stomach and intestines. In your gut live trillions of microscopic bacteria that help break down food into the individual nutrients your body needs to live. This collection of bacteria is often called your gut microbiome.
In simple terms, some of these are ‘good’ bacteria and help us stay healthy, whilst some are ‘bad’ and can do us harm. Whilst you can’t get rid of bad gut bacteria completely, having plenty of good gut bacteria helps keep your body in balance. The key to a healthy gut is understanding how to increase the amount of good bacteria and minimise the amount of bad bacteria.
How to improve your gut health
Eat 30 different plants a week
There are lots of different types of bacteria in your gut, but the good ones love plants. Increasing the diversity of plants in your diet can help feed the different types of good bacteria, and help them thrive. Whilst there’s no perfect number, a good goal is to aim for 30 different plants each week.
So what counts towards 30 a week?
Fruit, vegetables, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, grains, and legumes all count. We’re more concerned about variety than quantity with this goal, and it’s actually surprisingly easy to eat 30 different plants a week. You can easily boost your plant diversity by sprinkling some mixed nuts and seeds on your breakfast in the morning, and using plenty of herbs and spices in your evening meal.
Include pre & pro biotics in your diet
Many people get confused about the difference between probiotics and prebiotics, so here’s a simple explanation:
Probiotics are live ‘good’ bacteria that are found in some foods and often added to health supplements.
Prebiotics are the fibres that feed these good bacteria.
It’s important to include a good mix of pre-and probiotics in your diet. You want to make sure that you’re feeding the good bacteria, and that there are good bacteria there to feed!
Examples of probiotic foods
Yoghurt, kefir, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, soft & aged cheese, and some types of pickled vegetables.
Foods high in prebiotics
Chickpeas, lentils, beans, peas, oats, berries, peaches, bananas, asparagus, mushrooms, beetroot, garlic, onions, dandelion greens.
Reduce your intake of foods that feed harmful bacteria
Problems can occur when you have too many bad bacteria in your gut. The amount of bad bacteria can increase if you eat a lot of foods that feed them, or that harm the good bacteria.
Foods to limit or avoid include:
Alcohol, artificial sweeteners, red meat, highly processed foods, foods high in saturated fast (such as cakes, crisps, butter), and foods containing added salt and sugar.
Being aware of how different foods impact your gut health can help you make better decisions when it comes to choosing what you eat. As with most things, moderation is key, as well as taking some time to find a healthy balance that works for your body.
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