It's no secret that the gut is a crucial player in our overall well-being. Other than hosting over 100 million neurons and producing 90% of our body's serotonin, it's known to have a significant impact on both our physical and mental health.
Beyond ensuring a smooth and effective digestive process, good gut health can:
- prevent chronic diseases
- reduce inflammation
- help to manage weight and regulate blood sugar
- keep our hormones balanced and our mental health, well, healthy.
But the kicker really is this: it's all thanks to the tens of trillions of bacteria that live in your average human gut. Far from being the bad guys, these little bugs are known collectively as the gut microbiota, and it's definitely a case of 'the more, the merrier!'
The diversity of bacteria in our gut generally increases as we reach adulthood, then begins to decrease as we age. However, our gut microbiota is heavily dependent on diet, environment and lifestyle, so the choices we make have a significant impact on this process.
When we lead lives that positively influence our gut, we consequently positively impact our overall well-being. On the flip side, however, an unbalanced lifestyle negatively affects our gut and, therefore, our general health. So, what can we do?
Food Glorious Food
The foods we eat have a direct and often swift impact on our microbiota. Changing your diet can transform the population of bacteria in your gut within the first twenty-four hours! Certain foods work wonders, while others are best left alone.
Long story short:
Eat more: Probiotics, prebiotics, fibre, polyphenols and fermented foods
Eat less: Artificial sweeteners, red meat, processed foods and alcohol.
Good Gut Foods
'Probiotics' is the collective name for bacteria which are beneficial to your gut health. Fermented foods and drinks are chock-full of them, and, bonus, they're delicious!
Fermenting is a method of preserving foods using bacteria and yeast. It gives them quite a distinctive taste, but it's definitely worth learning to love it: when you eat fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut, you get all the benefits of the live bacteria within them!
When bacteria are added to milk, magic happens and you get yoghurt. It's full of lactic acid and loads of beneficial bugs. Look out for yoghurts labelled 'Live and Active Cultures' to get the most bacteria for your buck.
Sauerkraut and Kimchi
These fermented cabbage dishes contain plenty of probiotics, as well as being full of fibre.
Made from Kefir grains (colonies of yeast and lactic acid bacteria), this tart yoghurt-like drink packs a probiotic punch.
Add a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) to green or black tea, and you get kombucha! This naturally carbonated drink is full of acetic acid and lactic acid bacteria.
A fermented paste made from soybeans, barley or rice, this bacterial buddy is also high in protein.
Similar to tofu but fermented, this protein-packed soy-cake contains plenty of probiotics.
Prebiotics are dietary fibres which essentially feed probiotics. They usually can't be digested but are fermented by the probiotic bacteria in your gut. So if you want to cultivate a healthy population, treat them to some yummy foods rich in prebiotics!
Since they're types of fibres, prebiotics are found in a wide range of plant-based foods. As long as you're getting a broad and diverse range of fruits, veggies, pulses and grains, you're doing good!
Some good options include:
- leafy greens
- whole grains: wheat, rye, barley
- foods rich in polyphenols (colourful foods, tea, coffee, red wine and green tea, amongst others)
Some Foods to Avoid
There are some things which we should only enjoy in moderation. Red meat, alcohol, food with antibiotics or artificial sweeteners, and processed or refined foods are all highly unfriendly to your gut bacteria.
Apple Cider Vinegar and the Gut