Huge thanks to student dietitian, Kristi Brown for this guest post.
“Gut health” is a term that you will have heard if you are remotely interested in nutrition, health and/or science. But what does it mean and why is everyone talking about it?
The gut microbiome refers to the trillions of bacteria that reside in the GI tract, particularly, the large intestine. These good bacteria influence the health of the gut and play a role in helping to regulate the body’s systems, such as the digestive and immune system. There is also very interesting emerging research being done surrounding the role of the microbiome in mental health conditions and the “gut-brain axis” – a bidirectional communication between the microbiome and the brain.
So, (hopefully!), it is a bit clearer why good gut health is being promoted but what might not be as clear is – how do we achieve it?
One such way is fibre. Fibre cannot be completely broken down by digestive enzymes in the stomach and so, passes through to the large intestine where it acts as food for the bacteria there.
The current fibre recommendation is 30g, however, it has been noted that people in the UK do not usually consume that much. Below are some ideas on how to easily increase your fibre intake. Please remember to consume to tolerance and to build up over time, as too much fibre too quickly can have effects such as bloating. Try adding in one extra fibre rich food a week and see how you go. (Yes I know, pun intended, fibre makes you go to the toilet too ;))
Practical tips to keep your gut happy
- Variety is key – different bacteria enjoy different foods, so varying what you eat is a good way to keep them all healthy. Think of the colours you eat and the types of vegetables and fruit. Rotate what you eat, so if you usually enjoy broccoli, try asparagus. This way, you increase the chances of feeding all the bacteria in the gut and most importantly, you don’t get bored.
- Buy frozen – I still hear people say that frozen isn’t as good for you as fresh. This is a myth – in fact, the nutrients are locked in the food when frozen and it’s cheaper than fresh (double yay!)
- Reduce waste, eat the stalks and skin – we generally throw the stalks from broccoli/cauliflowers and leave the skin when eatin a baked potatoes, when this is where the most fibre is. Leave the skin on (but wash and scrub veggies first). You can add to things like – soups, stir fries, curries, chilli’s – you name it!
- Beans, beans good for your heart – again, go for variety. Baked beans are good but try kidney, butter and borlotti beans for a change. High in fibre, inexpensive and they bulk out your meal. Add to fajitas, chilli’s, make into burgers, add to a pasta dish, soups – the list goes on…
- Add seeds and nuts to your snacks, cereal, yoghurt and main meals. Cashew nuts on a stir fry, sesame seeds on bolognaise, linseeds in your porridge, pumpkin seeds on yoghurt. It all helps, plus seeds provide a whole host of nutrients.
- Go wholegrain when you can – switching to brown and wholegrain versions of foods can make a big change to your fibre intake. You could use 50/50 bread, wholemeal seeded wraps or brown rice.
I hope that has given you some ideas on how to up your fibre intake; keeping your gut healthy and providing a range of benefits from the other nutrients in the food (win-win!)