Are you keen to improve your gut health, but aren’t quite sure where to start? Then these five tips for better gut health are for you
We know that gut health makes a big difference to overall health, but it can be hard to know where to start trying to make it better. Until now! Aoife McDonald is here with her top tips for better gut health, which are all easy to implement.
Top tips for gut health
Fibre, Fibre, Fibre!
This is a good place to start when trying to improve gut health, as most of us would benefit from eating more of the good stuff (i.e fibre). It’s recommended that adults eat at least 30g per day, which is 10g more than what most of us are eating on the daily right now.
All plant foods contain fibre, so try to include as many as you can on a weekly basis. Choosing whole foods wherever possible is your best option. For example, try to base your diet more around fruit and vegetables, legumes (i.e. beans, peas and lentils), wholegrain cereals, nuts and seeds, and limit highly processed foods.
Why is fibre so important?
Well, from a gut health perspective, fibre is needed to keep our bowel movements regular, and to help feed our ‘good’ gut bacteria, which we will talk more about later!
Check food labels
We’re used to looking at food labels to check for things like fat, sugar and salt, but do you ever look at the fibre content of the foods you’re buying?
A good thing to do in the supermarket is to compare the labels of some similar products, for example breakfast cereals, to check which would be a better option in terms of fibre.
The trick is to look at the fibre content of the product per 100g, which should be clearly written on the label. If you see that there is 6g or more of fibre per 100g, then it is considered a ‘high fibre’ food. If it’s less than 6g, but more than 3g, then it is considered a ‘source’ of fibre.
Another good thing to look out for when checking food labels is the ingredients list. New research has shown that sweeteners may not be so good for our gut bacteria, as it is thought that they may reduce microbial diversity in the gut. If a food contains sweeteners, it will be on the ingredients list. It’s best not to have any type of food in excess, so the same applies for sweeteners – try not to have them in large amounts.
We all know that exercise is good for our muscles and our heart, but did you know that your gut also benefits from it?
Studies have shown that exercise can influence the types of bacteria in your gut for the better, and that’s even independent of our diets. One of the benefits is linked to the increase in bacteria that make something called butyrate, a fatty acid that plays an important role in keeping our gut lining in good nick.
So, now we have even more reason to exercise regularly!
Introduce fermented foods
Fermented foods have become more mainstream in recent times, but believe it or not, they have been around for thousands of years! Some popular ones you may have come across are yoghurts with ‘live cultures’, fermented milk drinks called kefir, and fermented tea called kombucha.
These products contain a variety of different live bacteria (probiotics) which are really beneficial for our health. However, not all fermented foods are probiotics. One example is beer, which is a fermented drink, but unfortunately does not have any beneficial bacteria!
If you plan to start eating fermented foods, always start with a small amount, and build up your intake over time. If you have digestive issues such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), then these foods may worsen your symptoms, so be careful!
Probiotics are also available in capsule form, and certain bacteria have been shown to be helpful in specific circumstances, for example in IBS, and in the prevention of antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.
Read more: Why should I try fermented food?
Variety is key
Different types of gut bacteria thrive off different types of foods, so eating a wide variety of plant foods is the best way to keep your microbes happy. The variety helps to keep the population of gut bacteria well balanced and prevents certain species from taking over.
As well as the prebiotic fibres (food for good gut bacteria) in plant foods, our microbes can also feed off polyphenols, which are a type of plant chemical (not all chemicals are bad!). Polyphenols also act as antioxidants in the body and can be found in high amounts in foods such as berries, dark chocolate, soy products, nuts, vegetables, beans, seeds and olive oil.
And the take-home message is…
Eat a wide variety of high fibre plant foods, including fermented foods when you can, and exercise regularly for better gut health.
Aoife McDonald is a registered dietician based in Cork with a special interest in gut health, IBS and public health and promotion. For more information visit TheDigestiveHealthClinic or check out her Instagram account, which mainly focuses on IBS and gut health