Go with your gut! It’s a phrase that we’ve all heard or said. However, this phrase has more credibility than you may think.
Recent research has started to explore the links between gut health and our mood and immune system, underscoring its importance and intrinsic link to our overall health. Not so surprisingly, social media has caught on this gutsy news and gut health is the new buzzword. While the hype has drawn great attention to the topic, the terminology and ideas can get quite confusing. If you’d like to learn about what ‘gut health’ really entails and its relationship with diet, then keep reading!
We’ve put together a TBT guide to gut health to help you navigate the ins and outs.
Gut flora, gastrointestinal flora and gut microbiome – what do they all mean?
These terms tend to be used interchangeably between different sources. All these terms refer to the different types of gut bacteria living in your gastrointestinal tract. Like our fingerprints, we each have a unique population of bacteria in our guts and only share a small number of these bacteria with one another. People usually assume that bacteria is something bad, but in fact, there are both good AND bad bacteria living in our guts.
Probiotics vs. Prebiotics
Probiotics are live bacteria that are naturally found in our gut and in our food. They improve our health by reducing the number of harmful bacteria that may survive in our gut. They also boost our immune system, assist with digestion and reduce symptoms of IBS. You’ll find these in fermented foods such as:
- kimchi (fermented cabbage)
- kombucha (fermented drink)
- You may also be surprised that traditional sourdough bread is also asource of probiotics – another reason to order a sourdough slice forbrunch?
Prebiotics, on the other hand, are a type of fibre that helps to stimulate the growth and survival of good bacteria and discourage the growth of harmful bacteria. They also provide food and optimise the gut environment for probiotics to flourish in (i.e. prebiotics are like food for probiotics). You’ll find these in:
Why is a healthy gut important?
Research suggests that gut health is linked to a number of diseases and health conditions. An imbalance of good and bad gut bacteria can lead to toxic byproducts and inflammation in the gut that can contribute to whole-body metabolic problems such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease and even disorders such as depression and schizophrenia. On the other hand, nurturing more beneficial bacteria in your gut can improve the absorption of vitamins, boost your immunity and help regulate your digestive system as well as your mood.
Who would have thought bacteria had such an important and diverse role in our body?!
How can we look after our gut bacteria?
A healthy lifestyle is the first step to looking after your gut. Although the relationship between our gut microbiome and health is complex, you can make simple tweaks to promote a healthy gut. A good diet including plenty of fibre, regular exercise and adequate sleep will work a charm in helping good bacteria to flourish. Meanwhile, the exact opposites are perfect conditions for harmful bacteria to conquer our guts!
Best foods for your gut
The good news is that your populations of gut bacteria can change rapidly in response to your lifestyle choices – so you can use this to your advantage and be well on your way to a healthier gut quicker than you think! The diversity of gut bacteria is very important because each type of bacteria plays a different (and equally important) role in your health.
The first step is eating a balanced diet that incorporates an array of different foods (especially fruit and vegetables) and minimal amounts of processed foods. For a happy healthy gut, include a combo of high-fibre prebiotic foods (think plant foods) and probiotics (dairy products and fermented foods).
We hope this guide has helped you get your head around the basics of gut health! We’d love to know your favourite gut-loving recipes, so be sure to tag us @thebitingtruth on Facebook and Instagram.
This article coauthored by the team of dietitians at The Biting Truth: Melissa Meier, Michelle Hsu and Lucy Kim, who are currently studying their Masters in Nutrition and Dietetics.