Over the past couple of years, there has been a huge surge in interesting research around gut health, which has turned into somewhat of a fashionable topic, from kombucha cafes to probiotic chocolate.
With so much information out there, it is so easy to get confused about what is and isn’t good for you, let alone what is good for your gut. Many symptoms can stem from poor gut health, such as weight gain (yes, a symptom, not a cause!), hormonal imbalances, problematic skin and allergies.
First of all, it is important to understand what is meant by the term ‘gut’ and more importantly, your ‘microbiome’. Your gut runs from your mouth to anus and is supported by your stomach, liver, gallbladder and pancreas to aid the digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients.
Your microbiome is a term used to describe the trillions of microbes living within your gut, with over 10,000 species identified. Did you know you have more microbial cells than there are human cells in your body? Your own microbiota is more unique than DNA – identical twins will have identical DNA but a very different microbiome. Your microbiome plays an important role in digestion and absorption of the food you eat, production of nutrients and neurotransmitters and immune function.
Before spending money on foods claiming to have superpowers or expensive treatments, Kristy Coleman, qualified nutritionist, will take you through the common myths surrounding gut health and what you really need to know.
Myth one: You need to take a probiotic supplement for a health gut
Wouldn’t it be great if you could just take a pill and all your digestive issues would be gone? Sadly, this isn’t true. The jury is still out on whether probiotic supplements are worth your money. Firstly, not all probiotic supplements have got robust clinical trials behind them. Secondly, some probiotic supplements do not reach the gut alive, which puts a question mark over their effectiveness. Thirdly, we all have differing quantities and types of bacteria, meaning we each have different requirements. However, there is evidence that the inclusion of prebiotic foods, such as garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus and bananas, can benefit your microbiome. Prebiotic foods contain fibre that cannot be digested in the small intestine so it passes through to your large intestine where it is fermented by beneficial bacteria, which supports microbiome growth and diversity.
Myth two: colon hydrotherapy or colonics ‘cleanse’ your gut
Colonics work by inserting a tube into your rectum and flushing water through your large intestine and waste products are flushed out. Your gut is not dirty, it does not need cleaning or detoxing. The evidence base behind such a procedure is weak and it can even be harmful if you have certain medical conditions. You are better off spending your money on good quality vegetables and some decent extra virgin olive oil, which contains powerful polyphenols proven to support your microbiome.
Myth three: A healthy diet means calorie counting and monitoring macros
While calorie counting and monitoring macros can be useful to some to keep an eye on portion control, a healthy diet is much more complex than these factors in isolation. To support your microbiome, you need to make sure you get a variety of nutrients, different types of fibre, polyphenols and phytochemicals, which all come from eating a variety of different foods. You won’t be promoting bacterial diversity if you stick to meal prep of chicken, rice and broccoli (familiar anyone?!). Eat a rainbow – the more colours you can get in, the happier your microbiome will be.
Myth four: All fermented products are good for your gut
Fermented foods, such as miso, kefir, sauerkraut, yoghurt and kimchi, aren’t new age superfoods but have been diet staples in many communities for centuries. The research on fermented products supporting your microbiome is still in its infancy, but it is emerging. That said, not all fermented products are created equal, for example, homemade kefir or kombucha will contain a more diverse mix of bacteria than commercially made pasteurised varieties. It is also worth remembering that while certain fermented foods may be beneficial for some, they aren’t for everyone so it is always worth doing your research and/or seeking support first.
Wanna find out more? Join Kristy and Rachael at our Nutrition & Move Afternoon Retreat in Frame Fitzrovia on the 12th January!