With over 100 billion microorganisms for every gram of intestinal content, more serotonin (happiness hormone) receptors than your brain and 100 million neurons in your gut, it’s no wonder your moods and health are hugely influenced by what you eat: scientists are increasingly discovering proof that the quality of food (including where and how it’s grown, what it was sprayed with, how far it has travelled and stored before you buy it) influences the number and variety of the microorganisms in your digestive tract. A rich, diverse intestinal population helps you bounce back faster from illness and medical interventions (like antibiotic use) and there is strong evidence it may boost metabolism, eliminate cravings and help you shed unwanted weight – plus improve your mood. Do I have your attention yet?
Recent research suggests that organic food is better for the microbiome. Eating organic reduces exposure to pesticides, which disrupt the gut flora and cause health issues. Healthy soils, typically where organic cultivation happens, produce healthier food. Diversity in the Western diet has sharply decreased over the past 70 years, so it is more important than ever to really pay attention to “eating a rainbow”. Read on to find out how to improve your gut bacteria by adding variety to your diet.
A lot is said about ‘probiotics’ and how fermented foods help enrich your gut. ‘Probiotics’ are foods containing beneficial microbe colonies and help increase these in your gastrointestinal tract.
But this is not the whole story… Enter ‘prebiotics’, types of fibre which provide food for, and promote the growth and activity of, beneficial microbe colonies.
Many foods, including fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, naturally contain prebiotic fibre. Organic produce, minimally processed and even fermented, is rich in these types of fibre (which become lost with processing). It offers your gut biome a really healthy workout, including the production of ‘short-chain fatty acids’, the main source of food for colon cells. Research shows that these fatty acids are absorbed into the bloodstream and promote metabolic health, help insulin and cholesterol regulation, reduce inflammation and may lower the possibility of colorectal cancer.
And here comes the third “P” in the story: ‘polyphenols’. Antioxidant-rich micronutrients in certain plant-based foods, they provide food for gut bacteria and can support a wide range of health issues, including weight management, diabetes, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular disease.
So what to do? Well, eat an organic rainbow:
- Eat more organic, prebiotic-rich foods: legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans), oats, bananas, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, garlic, onions, leeks, nuts and seeds
- Eat more fermented (probiotic-rich) foods: live yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso, natto, tempeh, sourdough bread
- Eat more polyphenol-rich foods: Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, olive oil, red wine, dark chocolate, green tea
- Avoid ‘beige’ foods: they contain very little, if any fibre, their nutrient profile is poor and replaced with artificial colourings, flavourings, preservatives and trans-fats (none of which are good for your gut)
- Remember: your body is made to feast on colourful food, its flavour, appearance, delicious smell, crispness and freshness – none of which can be obtained by eating highly processed, commercially produced “unloved” food
If you have a really compromised gut, food allergies or intolerances, inflammatory conditions such as IBS/Crohn’s or Coeliac’s, the introduction of both pre- and pro-biotics needs to be done slowly, carefully and ideally with the support of an experienced nutritional therapist or naturopathic practitioner.
To find out more about becoming a health practitioner, get in touch with CNM, UK’s leading training provider in natural health: naturopathy-uk.com, 01342 410505