All You Need To Know About Gut Health, with Samantha Stuk of The Nutrition Code
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last five years, we’re guessing you’ve heard about the importance of keeping a healthy gut. We now understand that the balance of good and bad bacteria in our digestive tract can influence more than just our toileting habits. In fact, our immune system, our exercise tolerance, our risk of chronic diseases, and even our body weight can be linked back to the health of our gut.
So basically, the more ‘good bacteria’ we have, the healthier we will be, and the better we will feel!
The burning question is – how to we achieve this balance, and improve our gut health? Before we answer this question, let us educate you on probiotics and preboitics.
Probiotics are live ‘good bacteria’, and are naturally occurring in fermented foods. During fermentation, natural sugars are converted into lactic acid, facilitating the growth of lactobacilli and other probiotics. People who have high levels of Lactobacilli usually have fewer Enterobacteriaceae, a bacteria associated with inflammation and a number of chronic diseases.
Prebiotics are dietary fibres that act as ‘food sources’ for good bacteria, promoting their growth and survival in the gut. Higher consumption of prebiotic foods has been linked to reduced growth of some disease-causing gut bacteria. It has also been linked to overall health improvement, including reduced cholesterol and stable blood sugar.
Now that we understand the basics, lets discuss four simple strategies for increasing the amount of ‘good bacteria’ in our gut:
- Include fermented foods in your daily diet
Common fermented foods containing probiotics include yoghurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and kombucha. The variety and concentration of probiotics in these wholefoods will vary, according to how they have been manufactured. And, most manufacturers have not had their products analysed.Jalna, for example, is one of the only products to approximate the concentration of probiotics in their products. On their website, Jalna states that 200g of their pot-set yogurt contains 600 million probiotics (from lactobacillus acidophilis, lactobacillus casei, and bifidobacterim strains). Vaalia’s Activia yoghurt does not comment on their probiotic concentration, but promotes their use of lactobaccilus rhamnosus GG, which has a high survival rate in the human digestive system.Kefir, a fermented milk drink, contains many more probiotic strains that yoghurt – with some sources quoting as high as 30 different strains! Babushka’s Kefir yoghurt, sold in supermarkets, claims to offer 50 billion probiotics per 250ml – with a large list of strains available of their website.
As for sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha, most manufacturers do not comment on the variety or quantity of probiotic strains in their products. Studies investigating these fermented foods are limited, however, those available suggest differences in the probiotic strains between each product, and when compared to dairy. Unlike dairy products, fermented vegetables have the added benefit of containing prebiotic fibres. When asked about kombucha, CSIRO senior researcher Dr Michael Conlon reports that the concentration of probiotics would be ‘much lower’ than in a commercial probiotic.
- …Or consider a probiotic supplement
If you dislike fermented foods, but still want to reap the rewards, consider a probiotic supplement. Unlike most fermented foods, probiotic supplements are incredibly specific about the variety and quantity of bacteria strains found within their product. To get your head around the range available – Yakult offers one strain, with 6.5 billion per bottle, whilst Bioceuticals Ultra Biotic 500 offers 10 strains, and 500 billion per sachet. Many manufacturers offer products numbers that fall somewhere in- between.It is tempting to believe ‘the more the better’. However, the American Gastroenterological Association offers an interpretation of the current evidence, suggesting that whilst some individuals will respond positively to supplements, others will register no change – no matter how many strains and ‘billions’ consumed. Whether or not you respond to probiotic supplements will be influenced by your genetics, diet, lifestyle, and other aspects of your health. Research into whether probiotic treatment can be customised and prescribed is currently underway.
- Eat plenty of ‘prebiotic-rich’ plant foods
Plant-based foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains, are all rich sources of prebiotic Those known to be particularly high in pre-biotic fibre include onion and garlic, apples, asparagus, peas, flaxseeds and oats.A word of caution, many foods rich in prebiotics are also sources of dietary FODMAPs. If you have IBS, some of these foods may aggravate, rather than relieve, your digestive symptoms. We suggest you limit only the foods proven to upset you, rather than all food sources of FODMAPs. This way, you won’t need to miss out on all the prebiotic benefits.
- Cut down on sugar, fat and alcohol
Diets high in saturated fats, sugars and alcohol have been shown to increase the number of ‘bad’ gut bacteria in the gut. These bacteria produce ‘endotoxins’ that can damage the cells lining our intestines. This process is sometimes referred to as ‘leaky gut syndrome’.The good news is, by making simple swaps, you can reap a ‘double benefit’ of taking out something harmful, and adding something beneficial! For example, swap your afternoon Snickers bar for an apple and a handful of nuts, and your evening Cornetto for a bowl of yoghurt with berries and seeds.
But wait – there’s one more thing! Have you heard of the ‘gut-brain axis’? Simply put – there is a strong connection between our brain and our gut, so any changes occurring in the brain can influence gut function (and vice versa). Studies have shown that exposure to stress can lead to unfavourable changes in our gut bacteria. Specifically – the bacterial communities in the intestine became less diverse, and had greater numbers of potentially harmful bacteria, such as Clostridium. And guess what we recommend to combat stress? Exercising at Body Fit!! 😉