The human body is literally covered in bacteria. It outnumbers our own cells ten to one and weighs in at around 1.5kg, most of which live as a complex ecosystem in our large intestine or bowel.
In recent years, the science has exploded on the power of the gut environment and it’s effect on our health and it has become evident that the bacteria that populate the gut play a role not only in digestion but also in our overall health.
As everything we eat passes through our gut, the foods we eat and drinks we consume effects the environment in our gut. Studies have shown that a change to diet can change the gut environment within a matter of days and that’s because different bacterial strains have different nutritional requirements so respond differently when they’re fed differently. A healthy gut environment is linked to a reduced risk of bowel cancer, allergies, as well as emerging evidence about it’s effect on psychological health and no doubt many, many other conditions yet to be discovered.
So here are a few tips to help create and support a healthy gut environment:
- Include prebiotics in your diet
- Aim for a total of 25-30g of fibre in your diet every day (including prebiotic foods)
- Include probiotic foods in your diet
- Avoid in your diet:
Prebiotics are the food for probiotics or bacteria in our gut, which are mostly fibrous foods the probiotics feed off producing fermentation by-products that are good for gut health. The best prebiotics include:
- Wholegrain cereals (wheat, barley, oats)
- Jerusalem artichoke
- Legumes (chickpeas, red kidney beans, black beans)
If this is a big jump from what you’re currently eating, build it up slowly so as to not experience bowel discomfort.
Probiotic rich foods can help to boost the population of particular bacterial strains in the gut, which is also thought to help the established bacteria work more effectively:
- Fermented dairy products (yoghurt, kefir, cheese, buttermilk)
- Fermented vegetables (sauerkraut, kimchi, dill pickles)
- Apple cider vinegar
- Fermented soy products (tempeh, miso, natto)
- Fermented grains such as lentils and chickpeas
- Refined grains (eg. White flour and anything made from it, like cake, muffins, biscuits, white bread)
- Junk food
- Refined sugars
- Too much alcohol