Hello and welcome to PREKURE’s weekly snippet of science, where on a weekly basis we share emergent research related to extending the human healthspan.
Nourishing The Gut
It has become increasingly obvious that gut health is important for overall health . Research now shows that the gut and brain ‘talk’ to one another, this is known as the gut-brain axis. Moreover, it is increasingly evident that gut health is linked to immune and metabolic function. Studies have linked poor gut health (a lack of diversity of the microbes living in our gut) to several diseases including obesity, T2D, and depression . These microbes are collectively referred to as the gut flora or gut microbiota. But with all the terminology – prebiotic, probiotic, resistant starch – it is easy to get lost in the jargon and feel unsure about what you can actually do to improve your gut health.
Before we dive into what you can do to nourish your gut (and the little creatures living inside it) let’s take a moment to define some of the key terminology you need to know when reading about gut health.
These are live bacteria found in certain foods or supplements. While there are many claims regarding the health benefits of a daily probiotic supplement, we suggest you include probiotic, and fermented foods, in your diet before turning to supplements. A food first approach is usually preferable. Probiotic containing foods include:
- Pickled vegetables
Be mindful of sugar content and additional additives and preservatives if you buy these products from the supermarket. Ideally, aim to make your own kimchi, sauerkraut and pickled vegetables. This is a great way to slash your weekly grocery budget. Buy produce in season and pickle it so you can still enjoy it later in the year when it might be a bit more expensive.
These are substances that come from fibrous carbohydrates that humans can’t digest, instead, these feed the microbes living in our gut. The microbiota metabolise prebiotics from fibre and produce short-chain fatty acids (like butyrate) that are thought to be the preferred signalling molecule for gut health . Interestingly, preliminary research suggests that ketone bodies (the by-product of free-fatty acid metabolism) may function in the same way . Before you trot off to your local pharmacy to splurge on expensive prebiotic supplements, there are plenty of foods you can consume that will do the trick.
- Legumes, beans and peas
- Bananas and berries
If you are sticking to a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet you will want to be mindful of the quantity of some of these foods as they tend to be higher in carbohydrate content. If you’re using low-carb or keto to reverse your diabetes or get your metabolic health in check, it’s probably a good idea to keep a close eye on your total daily carbohydrates. However, if you are simply trying to reduce carbs, in the context of a whole food diet, these foods definitely won’t throw you off course.
Dietician Dr Caryn Zinn explains “Resistant starch functions in a similar way to soluble fermentable fibre. Basically, it’s not absorbed by the body, but it is fermented by your gut bacteria. Your gut bacteria will eat this starch and produce short chain fatty acids, which is like what fibre does. Where do we find resistant starch? For example in cooked, cooled potatoes. You could cook and cool some baby potatoes and put them in your salad for lunch the next day. Other key resistant starches include oats, cooked and cooled rice, beans and legumes and dried bananas.”
Two Things You Can Do To Improve Gut Health
1. Say No To Junk Foods
Ultra-processed foods are filled with additives and preservatives and long-term consumption has been linked to poor overall health and biochemical changes including oxidative stress, inflammation, and gut dysbiosis . Yep, that’s right, your sneaky snack or takeout indulgence could be the reason for the gut upset you’re experiencing. Skip the Saturday night burger and fries and replace them with a delicious stir fry.
2. Eat The Rainbow
It’s been said before, and we will say it again. Eating a diet with a variety of plant-based foods is a sure fire way to nourish your gut and promote a healthy ecosystem of microbiota. You know the drill, shop around the outside of the grocery store (supplementing with dried and canned goods), eat things that were recently alive (not those that underwent 101 steps to become the colourless cereal bar you see on supermarket shelves, and eat seasonally. Throw together a salad for lunch and include your favourite plant foods, top with a healthy serving of protein and some kimchi or saurkraut for a gut loving lunch time boost. If you’re looking for some inspiration check out the What The Fat recipe book – it’s packed with delicious wholefood-based recipes.
Remember to be kind to yourself, swapping junk food for gut nourishing foods is only the beginning of your journey. Stress management is an integral part of maintaining a healthy gut. We now know how intricately connected the gut and brain are, while the food we eat is important to nourish our gut, it is just as important that you take time to rest, relax, and connect with friends and family. If you’re curious about gut health and want to learn more, check out this TedTalk from Professor Graham Rook aptly titled ‘Our microbial partners, and how to look after them’, where he delves into the science our the gut microbiome and how you can enhance your gut health (and that of your children) by taking actions beyond the food you eat.
“Humans, like other animals, are not individuals. Rather, we are ecosystems containing more microbial cells (microorganisms) than human ones. These microorganisms contain much more DNA, encoding far more metabolic pathways than are found in our human genomes, and every cell in the human body is continuously bathed in biologically active products of microbial metabolism”.