Recent research has revealed how our gut “bugs” or bacteria can influence our long-term health and can contribute to our overall health and well-being. In this blog article I’ll explore some of the research and highlight which foods can help to help maintain good gut health.
Your intestine, or also referred to as the gut, is home to tens of trillions of bacteria, weighing nearly 2kg. This community of bacteria, which contains a mixture of 'good' and 'bad' bacteria, is known as our 'microbiome'. We evolved together with our microbiome over millions of years. One-third of our gut bacteria is common to most people, while two-thirds are specific to each one of us. Essentially, your microbiome is like an individual ID card.
Recent research has discovered that small changes in this finely balanced community can affect our immune system, metabolism, body weight, and mood. Let’s have a look at how the good bugs work to keep you healthy.
How good bacteria keep you well
They attack infections. Around 70 per cent of our immune system is in our digestive system. When we have a virus, our healthy bacteria leap into action, aiming to neutralise toxins that the virus makes, thus reducing the likelihood that the virus will progress.
They remove “bad bacteria”
They get rid of the nasty bacteria that enter the digestive tract, preventing them from multiplying and making us unwell. “Good” bacteria produce lactic acid and fatty acids which lowers the acidity in the large bowel, making it difficult for “bad” bacteria to over multiply. This helps keep a healthy balance of bacteria.
They aid digestion
Good bacteria break down fibre in the gut to produce nutrients for the cells that line the bowel, keeping your gut healthy.
They make vitamins
You get most of your vitamins from food, but the healthy bacteria in our body make some too, such as certain B vitamins and vitamin K.
How do I take better care of my gut health?
Gut health is influenced by our genes, and while we can’t change our inherited genes, we can change our unique digestive system. We can do this by taking a look at what we’re eating and include more of the foods which help keep our good bacteria thriving.
Eat a healthy, high-fibre, balanced diet. A diet which is healthiest for our body is likely to be healthiest for the good bacteria in our gut too. Meals should be based on wholegrain and plant foods such as wholemeal grainy bread, brown rice and a wide range of brightly coloured vegetables and seeds/nuts. The latest research also recommends that animal fat (saturated fat) is to be kept low by including lean meats in your meals, for example, use extra lean mince. Don’t forget that pulses such as chickpeas and lentils make a great meat replacement and are very beneficial for our gut bacteria.
Rebalance with probiotics (the good bacteria). Probiotics are strains of healthy bacteria that can help balance out “good” and “bad” bacteria in the gut. There are many food items containing probiotics, such as yoghurts and drinks, as well as a variety of probiotic supplements. Look for the words lactobacillus and bifidobacteria on food labels.
Take antibiotics only when necessary. If your doctor has prescribed antibiotics it is important that you follow this advice. However, antibiotics can cause an upset in the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria. So when you’re on a course of antibiotics, consider taking a daily probiotic supplement and continue to take them for a month afterwards.
Want to find out more? Book your free 20-minute Discovery Call today and we can discuss ways in which I can optimise your gut health and overall well-being.
Conlon MA et al. (2014) The Impact of Diet and Lifestyle on Gut Microbiota and Human Health. Nutrients. 2015, 7, 17-44.
Eckberg PB et al. (2005) Diversity of the human intestinal microbial flora. Science. 308: 1635-1638.
Floch MH (2014) Probiotics and Prebiotics. Gastroenterology & Hepatology, 2014 Oct; 10 (10):680-1.