How to have a healthy gut

Pictured is a probiotic egg. This egg is soaked in Red Sauerkraut juice and has good bacteria on it, which helps promote good “gut health”

Miss 10 has struggled with her weight for over 2 years, she’s had faltering growth, and in the last 6 months has lost a massive amount of weight. Not only is she too thin, but her immune system is not working properly, she feels cold all the time and she gets sick more frequently and is often sick for a week or longer, instead of just a few days which seems to be more normal. In 2017, instead of missing 1 or 2 days of school, she’s missed 21! And it doesn’t matter how many calories I feed her (between 3000 and 4000 each day), she STILL loses weight! Many Doctors, specialists and pediatrician appointments later, we finally have a diagnosis of SIBO small intestinal bacterial overgrowth – which basically means she has too much bad bacteria in her small intestine. So why is this a problem?

First let’s look at what a healthy gut looks like.

About a third of our body weight is made up of cells that are not our own: mainly bacteria cells. On our skin, in our mouth, up our nose and in our gut. The ones that live inside our gut are called the gut microbiota. Some of these bacteria are good for our body and improve our health, some are neutral and some can make us sick.

Gut bacteria are thought to affect mood, appetite, autoimmune diseases, body weight, how well we age and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), among others. For example, studies on mice have shown that if you take gut bacteria from an “obese” mouse and put it inside a lean mouse, the lean mouse gains weight and becomes “obese”! It’s thought that some bacteria are super good at getting energy out of food and these bacteria may lead to weight gain.

Normally, most of the gut microbiota live in the large intestine. These bacteria do many things that are beneficial to our body, such as break down the fibrous foods into short chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, which play important functions for our health. They also help to make vitamins such as vitamin K and some B vitamins.

When too many bacteria live in the small intestine, they interfere with the small intestines function, which is to break down and absorb nutrients (which is why Miss 10, lost weight and is effectively malnourished).

How to help make your gut healthy.

There are millions of different types of bacteria (and some yeasts and viruses) that live in our gut. Each different species will “eat” a different type of food, so having a wide and varied diet is really important. For example, it is thought that people who are intolerant to gluten and wheat and respond to eating wheat products with bloating, flatulence, constipation (etc), lack a certain type of bacteria that breaks down the carbohydrates in wheat. Bacteria will respond to their environment and as with any pet, they do well when they are fed good food. So to maintain a good variety of healthy and beneficial bacteria you need to feed them all, by eating a wide variety of whole foods.

So what should we eat to have a healthy gut?

Eat lots of:

Foods rich in FIBRE – fruits, vegetables and legumes. These all have carbohydrates that our body cannot digest – and our bacteria feed off these, producing byproducts such as butyrate, as discussed above. This will stimulate their growth and improve your gut bacteria. Aim for ten plus serves of fruit and vegetables each day and legumes (chickpeas, lentils, kidney beans etc) at least once a day.

Prebiotic Foods – these are foods that are specific bacteria feeding foods. This is because they are not digested in our guts, but pass through into the large intestine and are left for the gut microbiota to feed on. Examples include foods high in resistant starch such as COLD rice or potato, or foods with “complex carbs” such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables. You can get supplement foods, such as slippery elm and pysilium husks, which are also prebiotics.

Fermented Foods – kefir, yoghurt (preferably plain natural yoghurt with no added sugar), sauerkraut, kombucha, sauerkraut juice, purple eggs, kimchi, raw apple cider vinegar (with the mother in it) and tempeh. These are all made using bacteria or yeasts to ferment them. Adding these to your daily diet will help put good bacteria into your gut. You can get probiotic capsules, which can be helpful in adding good bacteria into the gut.

Foods high in Polyphenols – Polyphenols are compounds found mostly in plants and they have antioxidant properties. They are not easily absorbed or digested by the human gut, so pass through to the large intestine and feed our gut bacteria. Foods high in polyphenols include dark chocolate and cocoa, blueberries, onions, grapes, red wine and broccoli.

Moral of the story?

To help keep our gut healthy it’s important to eat a wide variety of fresh whole foods, particularly fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains (if you can eat them). Make sure you include fermented foods daily, to help add the good bacteria into your gut.

Concerned about your health? Want some personalised advice to help you with your eating or weight? I can help! Call me for a no obligation chat about what I can do for you.