Tag Archives: eating for gut health

Foods for Gut Health

Gut issues are something that plague a lot, if not all of us at some stage of life. Whether it is travellers diarrhoea, a tummy bug, IBS or something more serious, our gut plays a key role in our overall health and it’s pretty complicated science. So here is a little overview of top gut health foods and some science that I think is pretty fascinating.

Gut-Brain Cross Talk 

We all know that our brain send signals to our guts. When you are hungry or about to eat, the brain sends signals so the gut can get ready and start the necessary secretions.

However the gut also has an impact on the brain and a control centre of it’s own.  This is known as a the Gut-brain axis. You will know that if you feel anxious or stressed it can have an impact on your tummy. You may feel this as butterflies or have an upset tummy before a job interview for example. Or have a gut feeling on something – this isn’t made up! Some people can be more sensitive to their guts than others, but in terms of health conditions there are some foods that we can eat to help our guts. 

Research has shown that stress, anxiety and disease states affect the balance of bacteria and microbes in the gut.  This could be an illness or something like a job stress or family event.  For some this will not be lasting, but for some it is. As an example my boy had a stomach bug and this led to lactose intolerance which is usually transient and passes after a few weeks, for him it has lasted but I hope as he grows older it will pass. 

Some people seem more resilient than others. Having a health gut microbiome could help with this, we don’t currently know but research is being conducted on this. It makes sense though that eating well is a logical step.

What is the Microbiome?

Microbiome – collect of bacteria, fungi, viruses and microbes plus their genetic material that are inside the intestines. The microbiome contains 10x more microbial cells than all the humans cells in the body. 

Good Gut Foods:

A top tip I heard recently from Dr Megan Rossi is to aim to eat 30 plant based foods a week. This includes wholegrains, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables. I counted mine up and I think I’m hitting 20 different types so have some work to do! If like me, you aren’t at the 30 mark then try adding in one new plant based food a week. Whenever you shop you could take a look at something different in the veggie aisle you don’t usually buy. I’ve started growing different veggies to make us used them and try new recipes. You want different colours and different types to get the range of prebiotics, fibres and antioxidants too. 

Fermented Foods:

I’ve been working on incorporating these into my own diet more as I’ve have a gut condition and when it is flared up it usually reminds me to attend to my gut microbiome. 

Foods that I try to make at home are live yoghurt, sometimes kefir and sourdough bread (if I am in a baking mood as it takes a while). Right now I’m in yoghurt mode. I heat the milk until I can just keep my finger in for 30 seconds. Then let it cool for a couple of minutes, stir in 3 tbsps of live yoghurt and leave it in a thermos flask (I have this one – but I don’t use their sachets) or somewhere warm for 8-12 hours. I like mine thick so leave it 12 hours.  I used to make yoghurt years ago as a student using a pyrex jug, leaving it covered with a tea cosy on the parcel shelf of my car in the sun! You can also buy Kefir in a lot of places and there are plenty of other fermented foods to try.

Fermented Foods
Kefir
Kombucha
Live yoghurt
Sauerkraut
Kimchi
Dry fermented sausage
Miso
Pickled foods

Probiotics:

Theses are the beneficial microbes that can help health benefits and alter your microbiome. They are known as  live cultures in foods. For example live yoghurt. Now whilst they can be bought as a supplement the problem is unless you know exactly which ones you need in your body you don’t know which ones to take. There is a probiotic guides that show the strains used in research studies that give benefits in different conditions, which can be useful when you need an idea of what to take, the amount and for how long. But we definitely need more research to enable us to be more specific. 

Prebiotics:

These are foods for the gut bacteria. Fibre, polyphenols and inulin being examples of the nutrients that help. There are loads of prebiotic foods and it is likely you are already eating some. They are the plant based foods – so increase these in your diet and you will be helping your gut. Examples include Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onion, asparagus, legumes, leeks, bananas, apples, oats, barley, flaxseeds and even seaweed.

If you want to read a more in depth article that I have written for a nutrition magazine on this topic then do take a look here:

Issue 126 fermented foods IBS and microbiome

 

 

The least sexy but vitally important nutrient

Facebook likes too ask “what’s on my mind” well actually right now it is fibre. An overlooked and neglected nutrient, maybe because bowel health just isn’t sexy. However to my mind, neither is constipation or piles. 
 
When the recommendations for fibre increased to 30g per day there were lots of posts out there about how hard it would be to achieve it and how to meet your fibre needs. At the time I remember thinking how hard this would be for many people to achieve. It’s all about making small changes one at a time and then building on these. In my clinic I see the extremes. Sometimes underweight people who are eating too much of the fibre rich foods (and I have to ask them to decrease these) but then also plenty of people who are just not having enough fibre which is causing some of their symptoms. 
 
(Disclaimer: this advice is not for those who are weight restoring from an eating disorder, too much fibre can be very filling and stop you from eating enough energy).
 
So why is fibre important? 
 
  • Bowels, bowels, bowels. As a student dietitian on the wards I remember having to swallow my embarrassment and loudly say to people “how are your bowels today”. These days I’m older, a lot harder to embarrass, mum to small kids and used to talking about bowels a lot… whether it be a clients, a child’s or a worms. Yes this week my girl wanted to chat about worms poo. Having enough insoluble fibre is important for bulking your stool. 

 

  • Soluble fibre forms a gel that slows digestion. This also means it helps stabilise blood sugars, lowers cholesterol and aids satiety, keeping you fuller for longer. Soluble fibre is found in oats, barley, psyllium, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits/vegetables. 

 

  • The microbiome is a fascinating area. Research has shown that the largest influence on the gut microbiome comes from diet. Fibre feeds the gut bacteria so by eating your fibre you are helping ensure your gut stays happy and healthy.

So how much fibre is in your foods? Although I wouldn’t promote you analyse labels all the time it can be interesting to compare the fibre content of some of the foods you eat.

Some fibre rich foods that can help boost your intake are:

Lentils, Spilt peas, beans,  garden peas, nuts, seeds, wholegrain versions of pasta, rice, bread products, wholegrain cereals, grains such as oats, quinoa, cous cous, popcorn, fruit and veggies, potato skins.

Top tips to increase the fibre content of your meals: 

  • Add lentils, beans and pulses to your meals. A couple of handfuls of lentils goes well in casseroles, soups, salads, even stir fries. 
  • When possible opt for wholegrain versions of foods.
  • Add nuts and seeds into meals. I love them sprinkled on breakfast or my yoghurt, you could add to a salad or on top of a stirfry. Sprinkle some in your sandwich or add to baking.
  • Increase your portions of fruit and vegetables if you are not meeting the 5 a day target. 
  • Eating more plant based meals in your week. We aim to eat plant based meals 4-5 times a week in our house. 

Here are some meals where I’ve pimped the fibre:

Oats with fruit, seeds and nuts – 15g fibre. Plus the oats here are soluble fibre. 

  

2 x Rye bread with 1/2 avocado – 10-15g fibre, this particular bread is very high fibre, 10g for 2 slices.

If you used a different rye bread it would be lower, using my normal rye bread plus the avocado it would be 10g fibre.

Risotto made with pearl barley and broccoli – 12-15g fibre per portion. Pearl barley has a high fibre content and is a great grain to cook with. It takes slightly longer to cook than rice but can be used instead of rice, or added to soups and stews. 

Vegetable fajitas with chickpeas, peppers and sesame seeds, smashed avocado and seeded wraps – 10g fibre.

I totally encourage you to try increasing your fibre intake and help your gut bacteria, blood sugars and bowel health. Remember to also drink plenty of fluids to help that fibre move through your system.

 

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