Nourishment for gut health |02 December 2022
It’s nearing the end of the year and for most people the festive season represents a time of decadence and parties. While there is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying special treats during this time, we still need to be mindful of the amount and quality of food we are eating. What we eat after all has a direct impact on our gut health.
Our gut or gastrointestinal tract is a long tube running all the way from our mouth (where food comes in) down to our anus (where food comes out). It is part of the digestive system comprising accessory organs like the pancreas and liver as well as blood vessels and nerves connecting to other systems like the nervous system (including our brain) and our immune system.
There is growing interest in the gut-brain axis or connection, with more and more research mounting up about the role of our gut in mental health. There is also evidence of the role of our gut in immune system functions.
Having a healthy gut is therefore not only important for the proper digestion and absorption of nutrients but also for our overall wellbeing. Therefore, you should start paying a closer attention to what you consume daily.
The gut microbiome
Microorganisms live on and in our body but when we think of them many of us think of pathogens which are the ones that cause disease. However, there are many microorganisms that play critical roles in keeping us healthy. In fact, there are trillions of microorganisms that live in our gut and are crucial to our gut health.
A healthy and functional gut has a good balance of gut bacteria, commonly known as the gut microbiome which is defined as the “totality of microorganisms, bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi, and their collective genetic material present in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT)” (ScienceDirect, 2022). They make up the largest population of microorganisms in our body.
Everyone’s gut microbiome is unique to them (even identical twins!) and it is determined by our genes, as well as our environment. Our gut microbiome is not static and will keep changing depending on environmental exposures including the food we eat, as well as other lifestyle factors such as our sleep patterns, exercise, level of stress and substance abuse such as smoking and excessive alcohol intake.
When your gut health is compromised you become more vulnerable to infections and disease so it is important to revisit your lifestyle choices.
A diverse diet
Giving your gut the right balance of nutrients is important for it to function optimally. The best way to achieve this is by eating a variety of foods from all food groups as illustrated in the Seychelles Food Guide (SFG). This includes a variety of animal and plant-based foods.
It is recommended that you diversify the plant foods you eat every week as each plant will provide its own mix of vitamins, minerals, fibre and phytochemicals. Plant foods however are not only limited to fruits and vegetables but also includes wholegrains like oats and corn, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds.
It’s important therefore to avoid eating the same plant foods every day and to include as much colour and diversity as you can. The more diverse your diet is, the more diverse is your gut microbiome.
When it comes to animal sources choose fresh and lean cuts as much as possible. Include more fish, some chicken and smaller amounts of red meat like beef, lamb and pork. Also include other sources like eggs and milk products as they all provide their own mix of nutrients each with its specific benefits.
Avoid processed meats like ham, salami, luncheon meat and corned beef as they are usually high in saturated fats, salt and additives. Other highly processed foods like cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks, confectionary and crisps should also be limited to occasional rather than daily options as they have been found to impede gut health.
Prebiotics and Probiotics
These two terms can be confusing for many people but they are not the same things.
Prebiotics are foods that proliferate the growth of our gut microbiota. Such foods contain indigestible carbohydrates and dietary fibre such as inulin and resistant starches. Natural prebiotics include most fruits and vegetables in particular onion, garlic, leek, bananas, as well as beans and wholegrains like oats and barley.
Although there are prebiotic supplements it is always better to get the natural sources as you will also benefit from other nutrients and active substances in that particular food.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits in the body. There are specific strains with probiotic properties. For instance, for bacteria it includes Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and yeasts, Saccharomyces boulardii.
These probiotics all have specific benefits that they bring to the body in particular the gut such as relieving certain digestive problems like diarrhoea. Good food sources of probiotics include probiotic yoghurt and kefir.
Fermented foods with live cultures, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and yoghurt may also help to increase the diversity of the gut microbiota but these live cultures however are not necessarily probiotics.
A diverse diet with a variety of foods and good lifestyle habits are the cornerstone of a healthy gut. What is one thing you will change today to improve your gut health?
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Please get in touch by emailing email@example.com and let us know how you’re doing with these ideas, or better still, let us know how we can help you.
Yours in health
The E4OH Team