Before we look at what you can do to help improve gut health, let’s first of all see why it’s so important. Living within our gut are trillions of microorganisms (mainly bacteria) and when we keep them healthy they help to support our overall wellbeing. When we look at our number of cells, we are actually only 43 percent human, the rest of us being microbes, so it is not hard to understand why we need to look after them!
Gut bacteria thrive on different foods including prebiotic fibres and polyphenols. As a by-product they produce wonderful chemicals, including short chain fatty acids. These have been shown to support your gut health, mood and mental wellbeing, immune health, skin health and even sleep quality.
Healthy gut bacteria also help to reduce inflammation in the body which is a root cause of many of the chronic diseases of today – such as diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and cognitive decline.
Research suggests increasing your fibre intake by 7g could reduce the risk of stroke by seven percent and charity Guts UK also suggests it can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes by a similar amount.
Evidence indicates that in the UK no age group is meeting their fibre requirement – with adults averaging 19g when it should be 30g! In addition to having enough fibre, we also need a diversity of fibre, so that we encourage the growth of different health promoting bacteria. I would suggest aiming to include 30 different plant foods in your diet per week.
With this in mind, here are some easy tweaks you can make to your lifestyle to help bolster your gut health.
Five swaps to improve gut health
1. Swap sweetened yoghurts for kefir
Kefir is a fermented milk drink/yoghurt that has been around for over 1000 years. As a result of being fermented it contains several strains of live beneficial bacteria which travel to your large intestine. Bacteria in fermented foods have been associated with improved blood sugar control and can support your immune health.
2. Swap your mid-morning biscuits for a handful of nuts
Nuts provide polyphenols and prebiotic fibre, both of which your gut bacteria feed on and flourish. Some great choices include almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and cashews. Remember mixed nuts add to that fibre variety that you also need to keep your gut healthy.
3. Swap half of the meat in your dinner for beans
Beans are a great source of the prebiotic fibre GOS, as well as being a good source of polyphenols. There are so many beans to choose from (e.g. pinto, black, kidney, butter) so get experimenting with adding them to your curries, stews, lasagnes, salads. A mixed can of beans is a great wide to add fibre variety.
4. Swap crisps for popcorn
Potato crisps are an ultra-processed food whereas popcorn is actually a wholegrain, often providing at last 50 percent more fibre per portion. Just remember to avoid the salty and sweetened versions.
5. Swap your sweet dessert for some polyphenol-rich fruit
Polyphenols are chemicals which help to protect the plant but when we eat them, about 90 percent pass through undigested to our large intestine where our gut bacteria have a feast on them. They are easy to spot as they are found in dark coloured fruits such as berries, plums, prunes, black grapes and apples. If you’re looking to keep the cost of berries down, buying frozen is an option. And, don’t forget to top the fruit off with some kefir!
If you are struggling to eat enough fibre an easy option is the newly launched gut health food
Deeply. This provides a whopping 7.5g of prebiotic and plant fibres in an easy 65ml measure. Your gut and immune health will thank you for it!