Sue Bedford (MSc Nutritional Therapy)
Your gut’s health is greatly influenced by the foods you eat. Similar to how an engine needs the right fuel, oil, and maintenance to keep all of its parts functioning well, your gut requires the proper nutrients in the correct quantities to keep everything in working order.
Did you know that your gut contains about a trillion different kinds of bacteria? They are present in both good and bad varieties. It is essential for optimal health to promote the growth of the good bacteria. If the composition of the gut is out of balance, it creates an environment that could make you more susceptible to infections and health conditions.
As all health begins in the gut, a balance of good bacteria that outweighs harmful bacteria can have a favourable impact on digestion, weight, hormones, mood, skin, hair, energy, and stress levels. Moreover, there is growing evidence to support the idea that gut health can impact fertility too. Indeed, new research has shown how poor gut health can cause an oestrogen imbalance, which may lead to infertility issues ranging from endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome to testicular dysfunction.
Some of the key components to look for in gut-healthy foods are prebiotics (these feed the good bacteria created by probiotics), probiotics (help create the good gut bacteria), fibre (keep things moving through the gut and polyphenols (are protective against bad bacteria in the gut). Some of the best foods for gut health are yoghurt, sauerkraut and other fermented foods which support good bacteria, boost natural antibodies and can help fight infection. Other foods like oats, swiss chard, bananas and pears pack your diet with soluble fibre, which helps keep your energy stable and nourishes the healthy bacteria in the gut. Whilst berries and cloves are excellent sources of polyphenols.
Five Fabulous Foods to Eat For A Healthy Gut
Berries- are among the healthiest fruits you can consume, from strawberries and blueberries to raspberries and blackberries. These berries in particular all have the ability to regulate your gut as one of their main benefits. They have anti-inflammatory properties like antioxidants that help minimize intestinal inflammation. Berries have been shown to reduce the signs and symptoms of gut inflammation, according to a review published in the Journal of Food and Function in 2020. Berries are one of the foods with the highest vitamin C content and are also rich in prebiotics, which can enhance the gut barrier, promote nutrient absorption, and provide protection from certain toxins.
Bananas – not only are bananas a great source of soluble fibre (ripe bananas) green bananas are great for the gut too as they contain in addition to this resistant starch. This resistant starch does not get digested in your stomach but makes its way down to the colon where it feeds and fuels the good bacteria there. Resistant starches also have a number of other gut-friendly roles including pumping short-chain fatty acids to your vital organs where they can be very beneficial and also strengthening the colon cells which may help protect against colon cancer.
Oats – a fantastic gut healthy food, oats are a source of prebiotic fibre that live probiotics (‘friendly’ bacteria) use to promote their growth. Prebiotics are nondigestible components of the diet (like fibre) that have the ability to modify the intestinal environment by influencing the growth and activity of certain microorganisms, typically good bacteria. In other words, prebiotics are food for the bacteria living in your gut. This has two benefits. Firstly, it encourages the ‘friendly’ bacteria to multiply, which helps crowd out the ‘bad’ bacteria, helping us to digest and absorb more nutrients from our food. It also encourages healthy bowel movements too. Secondly, when bacteria ferment these prebiotic fibres, they produce short-chain fatty acids including butyrate. Butyrate is used for energy by the cells lining the large intestine – so it basically helps keep the gut wall healthy. It’s also been found to improve the ‘barrier’ function of the gut wall, meaning its ability to stop harmful substances being absorbed from the gut into the bloodstream. Butyrate has also been linked to having anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects in the large intestine. Oats also contain a special dietary fibre called beta-glucan. Beta-glucans have shown in studies to possess prebiotic properties owing to their ability to pass undigested through the gastro-intestinal tract (GIT), where they act as a substrate for microbial fermentation and selectively stimulate the growth and activity of a small number of beneficial bacteria. Various studies show that diets rich in whole grains (including oats) tend to increase the beneficial bacteria Bifidobacterium and Lactobacilli.
Leeks- are rich in prebiotics (others include garlic, onions, artichokes and asparagus), which are a type of fibre that feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics – which include inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides – are mainly carbohydrates that cannot be broken down by our body’s own enzymes, so they pass through our digestive system and into the colon in the same state that we ingested them. Once in the colon, they act as a food for the probiotic bacteria and as a result help to increase the friendly bacteria. Prebiotics help to enhance nutrient absorption, eliminate toxic waste matter and stimulate the movement of food through the intestines and secrete digestive fluids. High-fibre foods, such as leeks, can also help reduce inflammation to protect against conditions like leaky gut syndrome.
Legumes – a great way to pack in the fibre. Legumes include beans, lentil, chickpeas and peas. Official guidance suggests that adults should be eating around 30g of fibre per day (but many barely get half of this amount). Increasing the amount of legumes in your diet is not only a great source of fibre – they are packed with protein and help to bulk out many meals. Often used as a substitute for meat- just half a cup of edamame beans provides 9g of fibre – a quick and healthy way of increasing your intake. Why not try adding lentils or chickpeas to a casserole or one pot- a healthy, cheap, quick way to up your fibre intake.
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