Did you know, you’ve got your own tropical rainforest living right inside you?
Ok, so it’s not quite tropical. There are not the gorgeous lush trees and jaguars, gorillas and butterflies. But our gut is home to trillions of bacteria, yeast and fungi, known as the gut microbiota, which each thrive in their own mini microenvironment.
And yes, you read that right… trillions. We have more of these little guys living in our gut than we do cells in our body. So you could say we are more bug than human. But it’s not as horrifying as it may sound. The vast majority of these are friendly, and they contribute to keeping us fit and healthy in a number of ways. They help digest the food we eat, they make vitamins, they prevent pathogens from being able to survive, and they provide fuel for our gut cells, helping keep our gut strong.
However, almost every kind of disease has a gut bug connection. Things like:
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
So we want to look after our gut bugs. If we do, then they in turn will look after us and help minimise our risk of suffering from these health conditions.
The best way we can do this is to provide them with the food they need to flourish.
Here are my top 10 gut-healing foods
Onions are incredibly rich in fibre and prebiotics, which means they are a wonderful food source for our friendly gut bacteria. They also contain quercetin, which has antimicrobial properties. This means that they can help protect your gut by killing off harmful microbes. Onions are easy to include in your diet. Whether raw or cooked, they give amazing flavour to meals. There are very few dinners that don’t involve onions in our house!
Here’s a little onion tip… chop up your onions only when you are ready to cook with them. The longer they sit after being cut, the more of their flavour gets lost. Preserve all that wonderful flavour by leaving their prep until the very last minute.
Another food that makes it into most of my meals! Garlic is packed full of gut-loving goodness. It’s particularly good at fighting off parasites and fungi, so is a wonderful food to include in a gut restoration programme. It’s particularly powerful when eaten raw, but that doesn’t mean it’s not beneficial when cooked too.
Garlic contains a compound called alliin and an enzyme called alliinase. To maximise the antimicrobial effects, prep your garlic, then leave it to sit for 10-15 minutes. This allows the alliin and alliinase to mix, forming a new antibacterial and antimicrobial compound called allicin (which is what gives garlic its distinctive smell!). This allicin is fairly heat resistant. So unless you cook it at an extremely high heat, it will make it into your gut intact.
It’s not an artichoke. And it’s not from Jerusalem. It’s actually from the sunflower family! They are a rich source of inulin. Something that we can’t digest ourselves… but those trillions of bacteria absolutely can. Particularly those from the Bifidobacteria genus. These are one of the first microorganisms to set up home in our intestines at birth and are the largest group of bacteria living in a healthy gut. They are incredibly beneficial to our health, partly due to their ability to keep our pH in the colon low, which limits the ability of pathogens to settle. So inulin-rich foods, such as Jerusalem artichoke, can help the Bifidobacteria thrive.
Cooking up bones releases gelatin, proline, glycine and chondroitin… all wonderful nutrients needed by our body to make collagen and repair our gut lining. You can slow (or pressure) cook your bones from your Sunday roast with some water, veggies and herbs. Use this wonderful broth to cook with for the following week. Use it in soups, in place of water for pasta or rice, in bolognaise… the possibilities are endless. It freezes well too so you can batch-cook a whole load and freeze it.
Starting your day with oats is a fabulous way to show your gut bacteria some love. They are full of fibre, particularly a type called beta-glucan, which can help lower LDL cholesterol. It does this by helping certain gut bacteria thrive, those which are responsible for regulating cholesterol levels. It also helps to increase feelings of satiety and so keeps you feeling full for longer.
“An apple a day keeps the doctor away”… Ok so not completely. But apples contain pectin, a fibre that feeds the good bacteria in your gut, particularly Bifidobacteria, which can help prevent intestinal inflammation and therefore enhance the health of our gut and as such our overall health. But we need to eat the whole apple. The skin is where most of the pectin is found. And the core is now thought to contain probiotic bacteria… so by throwing the core away you are missing out on all those gut-boosting bugs.
As a fermented food, yoghurt is wonderful for our gut, containing several bacteria that help to strengthen our digestive tract and help to increase the number of ‘good’ bacteria living in our gut. Some studies have shown some wonderful improvement in bloating in those with IBS. But the pasteurisation process that many yoghurts go through can kill off these beneficial bacteria, so make sure to pick one that contains live, active cultures (it’ll say so on the label).
It’s also important to avoid yoghurts that have added ingredients, such as sugar and artificial flavours. These aren’t quite so good for our gut. Plain yoghurt doesn’t have to be boring though. Add some cinnamon, some fresh fruit, a sprinkling of granola, some mixed seeds, and some dark chocolate… there are plenty of ways to jazz up plain yoghurt.
Do you prefer your bananas ripe or unripe? Your gut bacteria prefer the more unripe ones. They contain a form of starch which we can’t digest… but which makes it intact into your large intestine where it feeds our good bacteria. The fibre found within these bananas may also help to soften stools and prevent constipation.
These hairy brown fruits are full of vitamin C, but also prebiotic fibres which help the friendly Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus thrive. The skin is where most of this fibre is found though… by eating the skin you’ll up your fibre content by a massive 50%! And if you suffer from constipation, then eating two kiwi fruit a day for four weeks has been shown to lead to softer, more frequent poops.
Almond skins are 50% fibre, with the almonds themselves being 12% fibre. So there’s plenty of it in these little nuts. They are completely resistant to our digestive enzymes which means they reach our gut intact. Here they work their magic to enhance our overall gut health. Just six weeks of eating almonds has been shown to increase levels of Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. Even more exciting, levels of bacteria which contribute to food poisoning were greatly reduced.
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