It seems like everywhere you turn at the moment you’re reading about gut health. Doesn’t it? The gut microbiome has been linked to everything from Irritable Bowel Syndrome to Alzheimer’s to low mood and almost everything in between (1, 2). It’s truly fascinating.
Have you ever considered that your daily food choices could have a significant effect on the health of your gut? And not just whether you choose wholefoods or…. lets say, less than wholesome foods. Whether you have good diversity of foods in your diet is also very important.
What exactly is ‘the gut microbiome’?
The human gut microbiome is made up of trillions of microbes (or, gut bugs) that are found within your intestinal tract. These gut bugs assist in several functions within the body including supporting the immune system and helping to protect us against pathogens. They also assist in metabolic processes by aiding in the extraction of essential nutrients and vitamins from food (1).
How does the gut microbiome affect your health?
A healthy gut will have a well-balanced microbiome with each population of gut bug being present in just the right amount. When an imbalance (also known as gut dysbiosis) occurs, one or more of these populations can significantly increase or decrease leading to a variety of symptoms as a result. These may include a combination of gut-related symptoms such as:
- Bloating, cramping and stomach pain
- Constipation and/or diarrhoea
Or symptoms that may affect the whole body, such as:
- Lack of concentration
- Food intolerances
- Poor sleep
- Allergies and;
- Mood disorders like anxiety.
If it has been a chronic issue, gut dysbiosis may contribute to the development of more serious health conditions over time if not addressed. This includes autoimmune disease (3), a variety of inflammatory diseases (such as arthritis) and metabolic diseases like Type 2 diabetes for example (4).
What causes an imbalance in the microbiome?
There are several factors that can contribute to an imbalance in your microbiome including:
- Your Mother’s health throughout pregnancy
- Your mode of delivery at birth and whether you were breast-fed or formula-fed
- Medications, especially antibiotics in early life, but extending to PPIs, anti Inflammatories etc.
- A Western style diet – low in fibre and high in processed foods, saturated fat, sugar and alcohol
- Lack of exercise
- Chronic stress
- Shift work
- Lack of diversity in your diet (eating the same foods repeatedly) (5).
Can I improve my gut health, or am I stuck with it?
Yes, you absolutely can! Not all contributing factors listed above are elements that you can control however, there is still plenty you can do to optimise your gut health.
I find a lot of people think about or turn immediately to probiotics when considering how to improve gut health. However, love them as I do, they are only one piece of the puzzle. Additionally, if you do need to take a probiotic supplement, finding out which specific strains would be most beneficial for your unique case is the best approach.
How can your diet help you improve your gut health?
Diet is considered to be one of the most important factors in optimising gut health (5). Increasing the diversity of foods you eat will in turn increase the diversity of your microbiome. An abundantly populated and well-fed microbiome means a happy and healthy you!
I attended a gut health workshop with one of Australia’s leading gut experts, Dr Jason Hawrelak, at the end of last year. It was here that we discussed eating a minimum of 40 different whole, colourful and minimally processed plant-foods each week as a goal for optimum gut health.
If the 40 foods just freaked you out or made you feel overwhelmed fear not, I’ve got you covered! I have listed a few suggestions that you might like to consider below.
Include more foods like:
- Fruits and vegetables (A mix of anything seasonal that you love)
- Nuts and seeds (Cashews, hazelnuts and pumpkin seeds)
- Prebiotic rich foods (Jerusalem artichoke, leek, kohlrabi, legumes and sunflower seeds)
- Prebiotic like foods (Dark cacao, almonds)
- Fibre (Fruit and veg with the skin on, whole grains)
- Polyphenols (Deep red and purple foods are best like purple carrots, red cabbage, blueberries, red apples and red rice)
- Mucilages (Foods such as flaxseed and chia seeds that go all gluey/gooey when added to water) and;
- Resistant starch (Buckwheat, green banana flour and root vegetables).
And as a bonus for those who sign up to my newsletter: I would love for you to feel confident with adding these foods into your diet. With that in mind, I have created a quick reference guide for those of you who sign up to my newsletter. This download will help you achieve those 40+ foods each week with ease! It provides you with a comprehensive list of foods you should be including and an example of what a week of 40 different foods might look like. It will also help you keep your gut in tip-top shape!
How can I find out how diverse my microbiome is?
Gut microbiome testing can provide insight into the presence of dysbiosis, which can be addressed with targeted dietary treatment along with pre/probiotic supplementation if needed. I offer comprehensive and cost-effective microbiome testing in clinic, which can also be arranged via Skype. If this is something you need support with or would like to explore more, book in for a consultation.