Nutrition for Optimal Gut Health

Gut Health, or the term ‘gut microbiome’ more specifically, has been a topic of conversation in the wellness world as of recent, and for good reason at that. Not surprisingly, Google searches for ‘gut-health’ have escalated dramatically, it almost seems like the world has become gut-obsessed. Why? Thorough research has proven the benefits of nurturing and nourishing the trillions of bacterial cells that call our digestive tract home, so much so that our gut has now been labelled our ‘second brain’ and is thought to be central to our overall health and wellbeing.   

Whilst there is still so much about the gut that we don’t know, actually 50% for that matter still remains unclear, what scientists and research experts have confirmed is that the food we consume (or don’t consume) plays a significant role in the functioning of our gut microbiome. So the saying ‘you are what you eat’ is somewhat true after all.

When we talk about nutrition or healthy eating for our gut, we are typically referring to ways that we can fuel or feed the ecosystem of bacteria called our gut microbiome. Research has proven a greater diversity of beneficial bacteria in our microbiome equates to greater health benefits.
Before we get into breaking down the evidence (what we love doing most here at KOJA) about nutrition and gut health, it’s also important we regard other factors in our lives that can play havoc on our digestive systems (I’m looking at you stress & antibiotics). This isn’t to say that some level of stress isn’t imperative to wellbeing, or that antibiotics aren’t vital in certain medical situations (because they absolutely are), what we are saying here is that over-consuming certain medications or leading a highly stressful life (among other things) can create a condition we refer to as ‘dysbiosis’, or less formerly an imbalance in our gut bacteria. Dysbiosis or poor gut health has been linked to poor health outcomes such as digestive disorders, increased inflammation in the body, depression and anxiety and a heightened risk of chronic disease. 

How we do optimise our gut health through our nutrition you may ask? 

(note: no gut cleanses or gut detoxing products and programs here. No shame if you’ve tried these of course, just remember there is always a more sustainable way to reach your health goals using evidence-based practises) 

Here are my top tips: 

  • Aim to consume 30 different plant-foods per week:
  • Not only are plant-foods packed to the brim with vitamins, minerals and disease fighting antioxidants, they also contain a compound called fibre which acts as a fuel source for our gut bacteria. A recent study showed that individuals who consumed 30 or more different plant foods every single week had a much more diverse gut microbiome in comparison to those who only consumed 10 different plant foods. Do I sense a challenge coming on? Absolutely!

    Try to incorporate a food from each of these categories each week into your diet: fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts/seeds. Even better, aim for different colours to really reap all the nutritional benefits! I think I’ll go with oranges, brussel sprouts, barley, black beans and pecans. Let us know in the comments below what you experimenting with! Diversity in the diet = diversity in the gut! 

  • Include Prebiotic Foods in your diet:
  • Most prebiotics are a type of fibre, which are essential for microbiome diversity. Prebiotics in particular are the ‘gold standard’ of fibrous foods when it comes to our gut health, and this is because they feed specific beneficial bacteria. I like to look at them as the ‘petrol’ for the ‘car’ (the car being your gut microbiome in this instance). The great thing about prebiotics is that they naturally occur in so many of the foods we eat every single day. This means prebiotic supplements are generally not necessary! To name a few, prebiotics are found in onion, garlic, leek, asparagus, beetroot, nectarines, dried fruits, almonds, cashews, barley, rye, spelt, all legumes & silken tofu.  

  • Consider the need for a Probiotic and dabble in Fermented Foods:
  • Not to be confused with PRE-biotics, PRO-biotics are actually the name for the good bacteria in our gut (the prebiotics are the food for the probiotics), how confusing!

    Generally speaking, if you are in good health and consume a healthy balanced diet, there is minimal evidence to suggest taking a probiotic for further health benefits. In some cases, such as chronic constipation, diarrhoea or antibiotic-related diarrhoea, certain probiotics may be of benefit to you. Always seek advice from your GP and Dietitian if this is the case. While the evidence is also quite weak to support the benefit of fermented foods on gut health, we know that they pose no additional health risk, are delicious to incorporate into your diet and are most definitely worth a try. Our favourites are kombucha, yoghurt, sauerkraut and miso!  

  • Incorporate Polyphenols:
  • Polyphenols are a class of phytochemicals, which is just a fancy name for plant chemicals.
    They play a role in our gut health by being malabsorbed (not absorbed) in our small intestine. This means they essentially become apart of our gut microbiome (predominantly found in our large intestine) where they produce beneficial chemicals that may be linked to better heart and mental health, as well as cancer prevention. How amazing is that!
    Polyphenols are found in herbs and spices, berries, apples, flaxseeds, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds, olives, red onion, spinach, broccoli and extra virgin olive oil. Oh, and we can’t forget coffee and red wine too (all in moderation of course!)

    I have collated 10 practical gut-loving tips for you to incorporate into your lifestyle:

    1. Experiment with prebiotic rich protein alternatives such as lentils and legumes. Swap the meat component of your next dish with chickpeas or black beans. 
    2. Feeling like a sweet drink? Try kombucha! It's also much lower in added sugars compared to soft drinks. 
    3. Instead of flavouring your food with salt, try a variety of herbs and spices to increase the polyphenol content.
    4. Swap the rice in your next stir-fry or curry for a prebiotic rich grain like barley.
    5. Introduce a new food each week from the 5 plant-based categories.
    6. Prioritise a Mediterranean style of eating. Mediterranean diets are associated with greater gut microbiome diversity (think plant-rich, wholegrains, legumes and healthy fats). 
    7. Add yoghurt to your breakfast or incorporate it as a snack throughout the day. 
    8. Experiment with different cooking methods. Roasting, baking, grilling etc.
    9. Eat mindfully. Don’t forget to taste your food, explore your senses, chew thoroughly and enjoy. Having a positive relationship with food has been linked to lower rates of gut issues. 
    10. Eat all the plants and prioritise whole foods where possible. 

    KOJA Natural Peanut Butter Bars are 100% plant-based and include gut-loving ingredients such as nut butters, peanuts and buckwheat kernels. Eating a variety of plants every single day has been linked to a more diverse gut microbiome with greater amounts of beneficial bacteria. All our bars are also free from artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols (such as erythritol) which means they won't upset your stomach or leave you feeling sluggish and bloated.

    “The more diversity in your plant-based diet, the more diverse the nutrient supply for your gut microbiome” – Dr Megan Rossi (The Gut Health Doctor).

    Written by Accredited Nutritionist and Accredited Practising Dietitian Millie Padula, founder of Dietitian Edition.