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Gut Health: Why all the hype?

Gut health, it’s the topic of the times in nutrition. But what do we know and why is it important?

What is “Gut Health”

When you hear the term “Gut health” it means the health of your gastrointestinal system or more simply, how your oesophagus, stomach, small intestine and colon work. Our gut is responsible for putting our body into working order. It processes the foods we eat to fuel our body, it then allows the cells in our body to absorb the nutrients to support all aspects of our body’s function.

Why do we keep hearing about it?

Well firstly, it’s a part of nutrition and medical science that we are only just beginning to understand. We now understand that it’s not just the physical functioning of the gut (i.e. the mechanical processing of food) that is important for health, but it’s also the colonies of microbes within the gut that have a significant relationship with our health.

Research is emerging to show that the diversity of “micro” bugs, aka microbiota, living in our gut play a significant role in not only keeping us “regular”, but also protecting us from conditions like type 2 diabetes, liver disease, and heart/vascular diseases. Our mental health can also benefit from a boost in good bugs too.

How to support good guts?

There are a number of factors to consider for good gut health, but for today lets consider microbiota. One goal of good gut health is to have a range of good bugs, this is what we call gut microbiota diversity. We have some influence over this by our lifestyle habits:

  1. Diet: the types of fibre (low fibre contributes poorly, high fibre has a positive impact) along with other factors like pre and pro biotics in food boosting gut microbiota diversity.
  2. Stress and anxiety: often impacts the way the gut functions and a bunch of other factors than have a negative impact on gut bugs.
  3. Some medications: like antibiotics and reflux meds can reduce the good bugs.
  4. Alcohol and tobacco: both have a negative impact on gut bugs.
  5. Physical activity: exercising regularly is associated with more diversity of bugs, which is great for gut health.

So the take home message today is to include a range of high fibre foods – think plenty of vegetables, good quality grains, fruit, legumes and lentils, and nuts/seeds. Follow your regular routine of moving your body more and staying active, and finding ways to reduce stress and anxiety without the alcohol and smoking!

Over the coming articles, we’ll take a closer look at factors like pre and pro biotics, and the types of foods that can support “gut health” so stay tuned.

Need some dinner inspiration? Then check out this week’s recipe.

References:

Koh A, Bäckhed F. From Association to Causality: the Role of the Gut Microbiota and Its Functional Products on Host Metabolism. Mol Cell. 2020 May 21;78(4):584-596. doi: 10.1016/j.molcel.2020.03.005. Epub 2020 Mar 31. PMID: 32234490.

Hughes RL, Davis CD, Lobach A, Holscher HD. An Overview of Current Knowledge of the Gut Microbiota and Low-Calorie Sweeteners. Nutr Today. 2021 May-Jun;56(3):105-113. doi: 10.1097/nt.0000000000000481. PMID: 34211238; PMCID: PMC8240869.