Did you know we have 10 times more bacteria in our body than cells, with the majority found in our gut, especially our colon. New research suggests that the range and quantity of bacteria that live in our guts (known as the gut microbiota) could have a powerful effect on our general wellbeing, immune function, weight maintenance, sleep and mental health. Unfortunately, with the increasing use of antibiotics, modern lifestyle and lack of variety in our diet our gut microbiota is under threat. However, there are a few simple ways to improve the diversity of our gut microbiota and help them flourish by making some changes to what we eat.
A developing body of research suggests that foods high in probiotics and prebiotics help and maintain a healthy digestive system by supporting our microbiota. Probiotics are live bacteria, which are sometimes similar to the microbes already present in our gut and prebiotics are food for the bacteria.
Probiotics are commonly referred to as ‘good bacteria’. Probiotics compete with potentially harmful bacteria in our gut, therefore supporting the immune system. Live yoghurts and kefir contain probiotics, called lactobacilli, these are a group of bacteria that start the fermenting process in milk. These are also fine for you to eat during pregnancy as long as the product has been pasteurised. All milk products sold in UK stores should be pasteurised (it’s mainly only if you buy raw milk straight from a producer where it won’t be). It’s best to go for the unsweetened/ unflavoured option, so there is no added sugar.
Probiotics are also complemented well by polyphenols; these are found in nuts, oils and chocolate. Polyphenols are converted by our gut microbiota into compounds which improve the diversity of our colon and help bacteria thrive.
Prebiotics are non-digestible compounds which stimulate the growth and activity of our gut microbiota, you are probably already consuming prebiotics on a daily basis without realising as foods which are high in fibre are usually a good source. Artichokes, garlic, chicory, bananas, asparagus and onions are also known to be full of prebiotics!!
There are also a few foods that contain both pre- and pro-biotics known as synbiotics; these are usually fermented foods, such as sauerkraut (a German cabbage based condiment), kimchi (a traditional Korean dish of fermented vegetables) and miso (Japanese fermented soya-beans).
We are still very much at the beginning of understanding our gut health and the impact our diet has on our microbiota and overall health. A diverse diet which contains a range of pre- and pro-biotics is a great way to ensure you have a happy and healthy gut!
Here are a few top tips to help your gut microbes thrive:
- Reduce processed and fast food
- Feed your gut bacteria with foods high in prebiotics
- Try fermented foods, such as kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut.
- Eat antioxidant rich foods, which contain polyphenols, such as seeds, nuts, extra virgin olive oil and dark chocolate.
Your change for the week
- Add in probiotics and prebiotics for a healthy gut!
- Why not add kefir milk or live yoghurt to a breakfast smoothie? Bananas are also rich in prebiotics.
- Blend banana, kefir milk, 3 spoonfuls of oats, a handful of blueberries and a spoonful of linseed.
- Make a soup for lunch which is rich in prebiotics – for example leeks and asparagus are both great sources!
- 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 leek cleaned and finely chopped, 8 asparagus spears, chopped, 300ml vegetable stock, 200ml creme fraiche, salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Instructions: Sauté the leek and asparagus and for 2-3 minutes, to soften. Add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to simmer gently for 8-10 minutes, until the asparagus is cooked through. Transfer to a food processor, add the creme fraiche and blend until smooth. Season to taste.
- After dinner why not have a few squares of dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate