During the summer, it’s incredibly easy to kick back, make the most of the weather and sometimes get carried away with that being out of school vibe. As sun makes more of an appearance, the desire to spend time outside increases and with that relaxed feeling, our attention on our diet and nutrition often wanes. Summer parties, picnics and barbeques often lead us to increase alcohol consumption, sugary foods such as ice-cream and cakes and decrease in fruit and vegetables. All of this sometimes puts our system out of sync which may be linked with the decline of the beneficial bacteria in our guts.
Hippocrates once said ‘ All disease starts in the gut” and being healthy is often thought to be the absence of disease. Given our gut health is often a mirror of our overall health, it’s incredibly important to maintain our gut microbiome and ensure its diversity. So how can you ensure that you look after this important symbiotic relationship and still have a fun and tasty summer?
Firstly, being conscious of eating and drinking things that might affect our gut health is important and think about simple swaps or tips:
- Soda for sparkling water and fresh fruit such as lime
- Alternating alcoholic drinks with water
- Ensuring that you add at 2 least vegetables to every meal
- Add a side order of fermented foods such as sauerkraut or kimchi or fermented pickles to burgers and other barbeque foods
- Swap mayonnaise for live yoghurt
- Keep hydrated
There are plenty of simple and delicious ways to add both prebiotic and probiotic foods and other nutrient dense foods to your picnic and summer events ensuring that you are both nourishing your gut and your palate. Prebiotic foods are those that promote the growth of the beneficial bacteria in your gut whilst probiotics are foods which include live bacteria. For me, the easiest way to improve both gut health and overall health over the summer season is to make vegetables and fruit the basis for meals to ensure that you are getting plenty of fibre which provides a great source of nutrients for beneficial bacteria in your gut. Ideas for a gut healthy picnic might include:
- Sweet potato or potato salad made with boiled potatoes, lots of chopped spring onions, herbs and live yoghurt dressing
- Roast corn with butter and a little chilli and sald
- Cheese made with unpasteurised milk, particularly soft and blue cheeses
- Unpasteurised olives
- Kombucha to drink
- Roasted vegetables with kefir, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil dressing
- Organic beef, chicken or turkey burgers made with onion and garlic and served with kimchi or sauerkraut
- Homemade frozen yoghurt
- Chilled soups such as strawberry gazpacho
- Chicken skewers with fruit salsa
Here of three of my easy summer favourite ingredients to add to your menu to help you enjoy gut health over the summer.
British berries are at their sweetest and juiciest during the summer months and are packed with phytochemicals, polysaccharides and polyphenols which provide food for the gut microbiota. Berry anthocyanins can inhibit oxidative damage to cells and decrease the risk of disease by limiting dangerous anaerobic bacteria
. There is evidence to demonstrate that cranberries have proanthocyanidins which potentially inhibit pathogenic microbiota such as uropathogenic E coli by preventing gut colonisation[ii]. Berries are perfect for dessert or snacking or even try add berries to salads or in salsas which are often fruit based or even in gazpacho. Discover some strawberry recipes here
Onions and garlic –
Onion and garlic are high in allyl sulphides such as allicin which has potent microbial activity against pathogenic bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus and E. coli
[iii]. They are also high in inulin, a non-digestible prebiotic which passes through both the large and small intestine unabsorbed. The beneficial bacteria in the gut such as Bifidobacterium ferment the inulin and this impacts the lining of the gut and stimulates beneficial bacteria to grow[iv]. Onions and garlic are great for adding flavour to a range of dishes, particularly marinades and dressings. Try my spicy chicken skewers with pineapple salsa to make the most of these ingredients.
Live yoghurt –
Milk sugars, lactose, are fermented by lactic bacteria in milk to make live yoghurt which is full of protein, calcium and vitamin D as well as beneficial bacteria. Some of these probiotics in live yoghurt have been to shown to reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) including bloating and stool frequency
[v]. There are many studies demonstrating that live yoghurt improves bowel habits in women with no diagnosed bowel issues[vi]. Live yoghurt is often thought to improve the immune system function by reducing inflammation in obesity and obesity related disorders[vii]. Recent studies have demonstrated that frozen live yoghurt retains its gut health properties[viii] so look out for swapping ice-cream for frozen live yoghurt. Live yoghurt makes a fantastic alternative to mayonnaise in coleslaw or salad dressings.
Spicy chicken skewers with pineapple salsa
I’m a huge fan of anything that you can eat off a stick as this signifies summer to me. These chicken skewers can be popped onto the barbeque or under the grill, and eaten hot or cold with the salsa. They pack well and for both picnics or packed lunches and the salsa can be made with peaches, nectarines, strawberries or corn for summer eating.
Ingredients (serves 2)
10 mini wooden skewers, soaked in water
For chicken skewers
6 organic chicken thigh fillets, cut into 2.5cm cubes
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tsp of chipotle chilli paste
1 tbsp olive oil
Juice of ½ a lime
½ a ripe pineapple (or 3 large peaches or nectarines or 200g strawberries)
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely diced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
Juice of ½ a lime
10g of coriander, finely chopped
- 1.First, mix together the marinade for the chicken – the garlic, chipotle chilli, olive oil and lime juice and season.
- 2.Add the chicken cubes and marinate for at least 30 minutes and if you prefer, overnight.
- 3.In the meantime, prepare the salsa by finely dicing the pineapple to 1cm cubes.
- 4.Add the finely diced chilli, spring onion, lime and coriander and season well. This can be chilled overnight along with the chicken.
- 5.Thread the chicken onto the soaked skewers and cook under a hot grill, on a hot grill pan or barbeque for 3 – 4 minutes on each side, ensuring that any juices run clear when cooked.
- 6.Serve with the salsa and enjoy!
This blog was contributed by Toral Shah at
The Urban Kitchen
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[iv] Introducing inulin-type fructans.
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[v] Effect of a fermented milk containing Bifidobacterium animalis DN-173 010 on the health -related quality of life and symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome in adults in primary care: a multicentre, randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. – Guyonnet et al
Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2007 Aug 1;26(3):475-86.
[vi] Fermented milk containing Bifidobacterium lactis DN-173 010 improves gastrointestinal well-being and digestive symptoms in women reporting minor digestive symptoms: a randomised, double-blind, parallel, controlled study. – Guyonnet et al
Br J Nutr. 2009 Dec;102(11):1654-62
[vii] Obesity, inflammation and the gut microbiota. Cox et al
Lancet Diabetes Endocrinol. 2015 Mar;3(3):207-15.
[viii] Synbiotic yoghurt-ice cream produced via incorporation of micro encapsulated/actobacillus acidophilus (la-5) and frutooligosaccharide – Ahmadi et al
J Food Sci Technol. 2014 Aug; 51(8): 1568–1574.