What to eat to promote good gut health

What to eat to promote good gut health

 

Who would have thought the key to good health lies in our gut? According to a growing body of research, it turns out that the bacteria and microorganisms living in our digestive system play a crucial role in our mental and physical health.

Why is gut health so important?

Our gastrointestinal system (or gut) is often referred to as the second brain by health professionals, and for good reason! The bacteria and microorganisms living in our digestive system play a very important role in our mental and physical health journey. Our gut directly affects our mood, sleep patterns, hormones, immune and nervous system. Our digestion system is responsible for breaking down food into nutrients, which our body uses for energy, growth and cell repair.

There are hundreds of species of bacteria in our gut - some beneficial to our health and others that aren’t. It’s important to have more of the good kind of bacteria and our diet plays a crucial part in this as gut bacteria feed off what we eat.

The scientific term for these bacteria is our gut “microbiome.” Your gut microbiome functions as an extra organ in your body, comprising 70% of your immune system and linked to the health of every major organ in your body. In fact, it’s estimated the amount of gut bacteria we have may weigh as much as 1-2kg - roughly the weight of your brain. It’s for these reasons that the Transform method strongly focuses on nutrition principles that promote gut health. Our gut and brains are also more in sync than you think - the healthier your gut, the happier your brain!

How does gut health relate to fat loss?

Your gut bacteria play a role in how food is digested, how fat is stored and whether you feel hungry or full. Our body produces a number of different hormones that affect appetite, including leptin and ghrelin. Different bacteria in the gut affect how much of these hormones are produced and whether you feel hungry or full.

Other bacteria have been shown to break down fibre into substances called short chain fatty acids that reduce inflammation and prevent weight gain. So, your gut bacteria won’t directly cause you to lose weight. It’s the effects of their activities which can help you gain, lose or maintain your weight.

There is no quick fix pill to change your microbiome to have more fat burning bacteria. It comes down to consistently eating a healthy, varied diet high in colourful plant based foods and fibre, low in refined sugar and artificial sweeteners with less meat.

Diet tips to promote good gut health

What we choose to eat can either nourish and support or disrupt the balance of our gut health. 

Key things to consider to improve gut health overall:

  • Eat a high fibre diet including plenty of vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, nuts and seeds and legumes. This will ensure you are getting different types of fibre including soluble, insoluble and resistant starch. The Transform nutrition guide promotes high fibre foods.
  • Variety is the key! Eating a wide range of foods can lead to a diverse microbiome, which is an indicator of good gut health. Aim for more than 30 types of plant fibres a week – this means include lots of different coloured vegetables, eat different fruit from day to day. Don’t just eat almonds – get variety and add other nuts and seeds. Try other grains like brown rice, oats, barley, buckwheat or quinoa.
  • Avoid juicing your fruits and veg. Traditional juicing removes the fibre of the plant where the important prebiotics are. Fruit juices are high in sugar too without being filling. Go for a small smoothie which maintains the fibre. Or better yet, eat the whole piece of fruit or vegetable.
  • Add fermented foods like natural cultured yoghurt, kefir, miso, kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi and quality sourdough to your diet. The fermentation process increases the amount of good bacteria known as probiotics in these foods (more information below).
  • Limit red meat to 300g cooked red meat per week and avoid processed meat like ham, bacon, salami and sausages completely. Direct links to processed meat intake and bowel cancer have been shown.
  • Opt for oily fish. Omega 3 fats from oily fish like salmon are great for reducing inflammation in the gut and encouraging the growth of certain bacteria.
  • Include legumes at least 2 – 3 times per week. Lentils, chickpeas, soy/edamame, kidney beans are all example of high fibre legumes that will add diversity to your diet.
  • Limit sugar and artificial sweeteners as per the Transform Program guidelines. High intakes of these have been linked to growth of negative strains of bacteria.
  • Avoid ultra-processed foods, which are high in unwanted food additives and preservatives that disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut.
  • Limit alcohol consumption as heavy drinking can disrupt the good bacteria.
  • Drink plenty of water, at least 2 litres per day. Water promotes regular bowel movements and will keep everything moving regularly. Being dehydrated and not drinking enough water can lead to a build-up of waste, meaning it’s more likely our gut will be overrun by bad bacteria.
  • Chew your food mindfully and slow down your eating at mealtimes - digestion starts in the mouth!
  • Look out for the Gut Health symbol on recipes in the FitazFK app.

More about fermented foods

Including fermented foods in your diet may be new for you, but it’s simpler than you think. We recommend including at least 2 fermented foods in your diet each day. Here are some examples of common fermented foods and how to use them:

Fermented food

How to use it

Olives

Add to a salad or pizza

Fermented vegetables (pickles, onions, cabbage) that are naturally fermented in brine not pickled using vinegar.

Eat on their own or add to a salad

Unpasterised Sauerkraut (often sold cold)

Add to hot and cold dishes

Kimchi

Add as an addition to hot and cold meals. Mix with scrambled eggs.

Miso

Use miso paste in soup, salad dressings and to marinate meat

Feta

Crumble onto salad or on its own

Yoghurt with probiotic cultures

On its own as a snack, a dollop added to hot meals, in overnight oats.

Kefir

As a dairy drink or yoghurt

Tempeh

In stir fries and as a sandwich filler

Kombucha

As a refreshing drink – choose low sugar options

 What about probiotic supplements?

If you’re not eating many fermented foods, a probiotic supplement taken daily could help boost the growth of good bacteria. Keep in mind you need to take a probiotic supplement consistently for at least a month before the benefits can be seen. The Transform method incorporates numerous fermented foods in the diet plan and recipes without the need for a supplement.

Help! I’m feeling bloated.

Bloating is normal and can be caused by:

  • Eating too quickly and swallowing air as a result. Try slowing down the pace of your meals. It should take at least 20 minutes to finish a meal.
  • Not chewing food thoroughly so large particles of food enter your digestive system requiring extra effort to break them down.
  • Consuming a large meal, or lots more food than usual over the course of the day.
  • Build-up of wind and gas from the digestion of food.
  • The balance of fibre you’re eating - not enough/too much.
  • Sugar alcohols in foods. You’ll find them in chewing gum, sugar-free lollies, protein bars, and
  • Plenty of processed foods under names including sorbitol, lactitol, xylitol, mannitol and typically anything else with an “ol” ending.

Some other concerning reasons for on-going bloating may include:

  • Food intolerance or FODMAP sensitivity - working with a Dietitian can identify this.
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Inflammatory bowel conditions.

If your symptoms are constant and painful, seek guidance from a healthcare professional.

Liz Borgo

Accredited Practising Dietitian/Nutritionist

@lizthedietitian