There has been a lot of discussion in the media around the gut microbiome and its impact on overall health, but what does this actually mean? The term “gut health” is related to the vast and diverse community of microorganisms that are found within the intestinal tract. The ratio of “good” bacteria to “bad” bacteria determines the state of your gut health. The “good” bacteria produce a variety of products, such as vitamins, natural antibiotics, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory compounds and short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are all associated with positive overall health. On the other hand, “bad” bacteria are associated with gastrointestinal discomfort, chronic disease and leaky gut. There are many factors that influence the type of bacteria found in your intestinal tract, including age, environment, stress, genetics, immune system and, of course, the food you consume.
So why is gut health important?
The most common answer is that a healthy gut promotes good bowel functions which reduces incidence of bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. What most people don’t know is that gut health also plays a role in immune function, metabolism, risk of chronic disease and mental health.
Current research suggests that the microbiome provides effective digestion and defence against pathogens and toxins.
How do I improve my gut health?
It depends! There is no “one size fits all” diet that will fix your gut health. However, there are 5 key points that should be applied daily to promote good gut health.
These are explored below:
1. Fibre There are three different type of dietary fibre (insoluble fibre, soluble fibre and resistant fibre) that are consumed in the diet. Overall, they promote regular bowel movements, slow digestion and feed good bacteria found within the intestinal tract. The recommended dietary intake of fibre is 25-30g per day.
2. Water Water plays many different roles within the body. In relation to the gut, this is important to pair back with fibre intake. Fibre absorbs water within the gut, so ensure you are drinking enough to prevent any gastrointestinal discomfort. You should consume 30-35mL per kg of body weight each day, which is around 2-2.5L. Keep in mind if you are doing any exercise or if it’s a particularly hot day, drink any extra 1L on top of this to ensure you’re replenishing any fluid lost through sweat.
3. Probiotics If you have gastrointestinal issues, such as bloating, diarrhoea or constipation, or your immune system is vulnerable (due to illness or travel), you may benefit from taking probiotics. Probiotics allow you to replenish the good bacteria in your gut when your immune system is not working as well as it should. Ensure that the probiotics you are taking are tested as there are products on the market that are not as effective! Consult with your dietitian if you are unsure what products to use.
4. Reduce intake of sugar, saturated fat and caffeine. High sugar, saturated fat and caffeine intake is found to irritate the gut and limit absorption of nutrients consumed. In addition, some individuals experience uncomfortable symptoms which can be misinterpreted as an intolerance. This does not mean you need to eliminate your intake of these foods/drinks all together! However, moderating your intake may benefit your gut health.
5. Diversity Eating a diverse diet exposes the microbiome to a wide array of nutrients. This give the microbiome the opportunity to grow and diversify itself, which will allow it to be better equipped to provide effective immune defence and digestion. Aim to eat a wide variety vegetable and fruits, especially of different colours, as they contain different nutrients. Summary Gut health plays an incredibly large role in not only bowel functions, but also your immune system, risk of chronic disease, metabolism and mental health.
Although there are many factors that influence the bacteria in your gut, there are 5 key points to keep in mind:
1) ensure you are consuming an adequate amount of fibre,
2) have 2-2.5L water throughout the day,
3) have a tested probiotic supplement if you have bowel issues, are sick or travelling,
4) reduce your intake of caffeine, saturated fat and sugar as these are gut irritants,
5) eat a diverse diet with at least 5 different colours of fruit and vegetables!
If you have any questions or concerns regarding your gut health, please consult with our dietitian or Nutritionist.