Most people know that gut health is important and that we should take probiotics after a course of antibiotics, but what is it about and how can it affect your health?
Gut bacteria ferments fibre and non-digestible carbohydrates which reach our intestines undigested and produces short chain fatty acids. By-products of this process are gases such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane which we expel through our breath, and yes, as flatulence.
Lots of different factors can influence the composition of our gut bacteria such as our diet, our genetics, even how we were delivered as babies or whether we were breast fed or formula fed. Alcohol, poor diet and stress can all upset the bacterial balance which can throw our digestion (and health) out of order.
Research is starting to identify relationships between an imbalance in good and bad bacteria and several diseases such as metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease, irritable bowel, mental health disorders and even central neural disorders.
Having good levels of beneficial bacteria ensures your bowel is healthy and functioning well, can control hunger signals, supports your immune system, and even helps to absorb certain vitamins such as vitamin K, which is important for blood clotting, B12 for cell and brain health, biotin and carnitine.
So, what can you do to ensure you are consuming the right foods to support a healthy gut? Firstly, bad bacteria thrives on sugar, so start by reducing the amount of refined sugar in your diet. Include legumes, pulses, wholegrains into your diet for fibre which act as prebiotics that feed the healthy bacteria.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kombucha, kimchi and yoghurt contain good levels of healthy bacteria which encourages microflora to flourish. Probiotics are also an option but when choosing which ones best suit you, select those with high levels of bacteria per gram (aim for 10million) and contain specific strains (will often say clinically proven). Check the best before date and look for the claim “live and active cultures”.
By Kim Jones, Nutritionist, Total Nutrition and Health
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