Your gut microbiome – the trillions of bacteria, viruses and fungi that live in your guts – plays a huge role in many body functions. But a healthy microbiome doesn’t happen by accident. Basically, the more diverse your microbiome, the better – and the more you feed it foods it thrives on, the better it likes it. Give your gut a head start in 2024 with some health-enhancing diet tweaks.
1. Eat a rainbow
We all know fruit and vegetables help you get the vitamins and minerals your body needs. But they also contain natural chemicals called phytonutrients, which have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. In addition, different plants all contain differing combinations of phytonutrients – polyphenols, flavonoids, carotenoids and more. Polyphenols are largely responsible for giving fruit and veg their colour – the wider the range of colours, the wide the range of nutrients.
2. 5 a day has been updated!
For decades, public health messaging has focused on the 5 fruit and veg a day message. It’s definitely important to keep your intake of vegetables and fruit up, but as we’ve learnt more about the gut microbiome, the message has been refined. Ideally, you should be trying to eat at least 30 different plant-based foods a week. That includes seeds, nuts, grains and even herbs and spices, so it’s not as hard as it sounds.
3. Keep it regular
There are two main types of fibre – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and can help stabilise blood sugar and reduce cholesterol. Insoluble fibre isn’t absorbed from your gut and helps bulk out your poo, reducing the risk of constipation and piles.
4. Know your fibre
If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, you may find that increasing your insoluble fibre intake makes bloating and wind worse. However, soluble fibre – found in oats, beans, nuts and seeds, aubergine, stone fruit, avocadoes, artichokes, brussels sprouts, apples and pears – may help relieve your symptoms and keep your bowel habit regular. Do be aware that the skin of many fruits is high in insoluble fibre.
5. Opt for unrefined carbs
We use carbohydrates as a source of energy – but refined carbs (sugar and sugary foods, white bread, pasta, rice and flour etc) are largely empty of nutrients. What’s more, ultra-processed foods (fizzy drinks, processed meat and crisps, biscuits and cakes, many breakfast cereals, mass-produced bread etc) have been linked to a host of health woes. Opt for unrefined carbs (wholemeal or wholegrain, lentils, pulses, beans etc) where you can and try to cook from scratch.
6. Eat mindfully
It takes a while for messages from your stomach to reach your brain, telling it you’ve had enough. If you bolt your food, you’re more likely to overeat and end up feeling bloated or getting heartburn. Sit down to eat with no distractions, take time to chew and savour your food.
7. Water, water everywhere
Being dehydrated can leave you feeling sluggish and tired, prone to headaches and urine infections. It increases the chance of constipation and may also be linked to a less diverse microbiome. Keep your (non-alcoholic) fluid intake up, enough to keep your urine pale straw coloured.
8. Cook two, eat one
When you’re cooking a meal, make twice the quantity you need and stack individual portions in the freezer. You’ll soon build up a stock of healthy ready meals.
9. Feed your healthy gut bugs
Prebiotics are foods that aren’t absorbed from your system and encourage healthy bacteria in your gut to flourish. A common prebiotic food is inulin, found in garlic, artichokes, onions, leeks, banana and asparagus.
10. Stack the odds for helpful bacteria
Probiotic foods are high in beneficial bacteria, which can thrive in your gut and crowd out unhealthy bacteria. They include live culture yoghurts; sauerkraut; blue cheese; aged cheese like cheddar, gouda, edam, gruyere and parmesan; miso; kimchi; kombucha (a fermented tea drink); and kefir (a fermented milk drink).
Dr Sarah Jarvis has acted as a medical advisor for Symprove.
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