Gut health has become one of the most popular topics in the health and nutrition scene, but it can be a confusing topic to navigate and understand. The term gut health can refer to many different aspects of health and can be influenced by almost every aspect of our lifestyle. Many recent studies have shown increasing amounts of evidence of the impact gut health has on our entire body and therefore it is important that we can all understand how and why we should take care of it!
What does ‘Gut Health’ mean?
Gut health is referring to the population of bacteria that lives inside your digestive track. These bacteria are collectively known as our gut microbiota. Did you know there are billions of bacteria, both good and bad, present at anytime in our digestive system. The balance of good vs bad bacteria, along with the diversity within the different strains of bacteria present, are the variables that distinguish a healthy gut environment from an unhealthy one. Some of the symptoms associated with having ‘bad gut health’, include; poor digestion, low immunity, low energy levels, low moods and has been linked to weight management issues. In an ideal gut microbiota, there is a large number of beneficial bacteria and a low number of bad/harmful bacteria. Furthermore, there should ideally be a wide variety of bacteria species present within the good strains and each strain has it’s own associated health benefit.
Why are these bacteria so important?
These billions of bacteria, although extremely tiny, have a major effect on our whole body. Good bacteria produce important compounds inside the gut, such as B and K vitamins and short chain fatty acids. The good bacteria also break down dietary fiber and help to fight off harmful bacteria and pathogens that may cause disease and illness. It is known that the majority of our body’s serotonin (a neurotransmitter which affects happiness and mood management issues) is produced in the gut and therefore an unbalanced gut microbiota can negatively effect serotonin production. More recent research has shown the gut microbiome can be linked to obesity.
What affects our Gut Health and Microbiome?
The biggest influences affecting our Gut Health include our diet and lifestyle choices. It is known that some foods contain good bacteria, such as probiotics or compounds that feed the good bacteria, known as prebiotics. These pre and probiotics are hugely beneficial for gut health, as they help to increase the numbers of good bacteria inside the gut. Some foods can be harmful to our gut microbiome. These foods are highly processed and contain artificial flavours, sweeteners, sugars and preservatives. Lifestyle choices can have both a positive and negative effect on gut health. Stress, excess exercise, antibiotics and other medications can all have a negative affect on the microbiome. Probiotic, good bacteria, are highly effective at improving gut health.
How can you improve your gut health?
Improving gut health ultimately comes down to increasing the number and variety of good bacteria inside your gut microbiome. The most simple way to that is to consume either probiotic supplements or probiotic containing foods. These probiotics can populate inside your gut to increase the number of good bacteria present. Getting enough good bacteria is critical! Many varieties are highly sensitive to heat and acid, which means they can be destroyed during the digestion process in the stomach.
Try and include these pre and probiotics in your diet to boost your gut health?
Sources of probiotic foods:
- fermented foods, such as sauerkraut and kimchi
- traditional fermented buttermilk
- fermented cheeses, such as Gouda
Sources of prebiotic foods:
By including a variety of foods in your diet, you can ensure that you consume a range of prebiotics that may fuel various strains of bacteria. Prebiotics are in many high-fiber foods, including:
- whole grains.