Our digestive system is a complex system of the gastrointestinal tract and the accessory organs of digestion (such as the tongue, pancreas and liver). The process of digestion involves the breakdown of food into smaller particles than which they are consumed; this allows the body to absorb the nutrients from our food and be used in various processes of the body.
The word microbiome simply refers to all organisms that live in a certain part of your body- in this case, in the gut. The balance of bacteria in your gut develops over a lifetime and reflects every aspect of your life- genes, what you’ve consistently eaten, exposure to chemicals and pollution, medications, hormone levels and stress. Each persons’ microbiome is therefore unique. Modern life has unfortunately decreased our gut health, due to factors such as an over-processed diet and high use of medications such as antibiotics and hormonal pills. A healthy gut relies on a favourable balance between “good” and “bad” bacteria. Symbiotic organisms, the “good” bacteria, help us to digest food, aid in nutrient absorption, boost our immune system and crowd out “bad” bacteria.
The foods you eat regularly are emerging as the most influential factor in gut health since bacteria are fuelled by what we are eating. This is something that is also relatively easy to control, whereas other factors such as pollution, are much less so. So what can you be eating to maximise your gut health?
Fuelling the good bacteria
So it seems promoting a healthy gut microbiome is key for digestive health but how do we do that? High fibre, plant-based foods are a good place to start. Fibre from plants provides raw materials for feeding those good bacteria we need. The diversity and number of different plants you eat will be reflected in the diversity of bacteria species you are promoting in your gut. This is why nutritionists advise eating a good variety of veg, ranging in colours.
Sugar is the enemy of gut health. Studies have shown consuming too much sugar leads to an increase in yeast species and other pathogenic bacteria that we don't want. Sugar also interferes with our ability to destroy toxins, leading us to become more susceptible to infections. If you do have a sweet tooth, make good use of high nutrient raw options, such as raw honey or raw chocolate. These products boost the bacteria we want in our guts and give you a sweet fix without affecting your gut health with all the processed, refined sugars.
Consider adding fermented foods into your diet. Foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles contain live bacteria (probiotics) which nourish our good bacteria. Alternatively, try kombucha or kefirs as your drink options to give similar effects.
The crucial aspect of dietary change to boost gut health is stepping away from processed, chemical-laden foods and getting back to basics. Your diet should be based around wholesome, unprocessed foods, such as vegetables, fruit, meat, fish and nuts. Aim to cut processed and refined sugars as much as possible and you’re on the right path.
Can poor gut health prevent weight loss?
The simple answer is yes. If you are one of those people who restrict calories, exercise religiously and still can’t shift the pounds you want, poor gut health could definitely be a factor preventing you from losing weight. Studies on overweight people demonstrate a reduction in “good” bacteria in the gut and an increase in pathogens. This has then been demonstrated to correlate with how much weight was lost over a time period when diet and exercise remained consistent across participants. It would suggest that the microbiome is very important in determining the effectiveness of weight loss programmes. Therefore, when considering any diet adjustments, ensure your good bacteria are being given the fuel they need to thrive.
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