Gut health is a hot topic right now! In this blog, I’m going to cover the basics of what you need to know about all things gut health.
Let’s set the scene by starting with the basics! The term ‘gut health’ refers to the proper functioning and health of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is the 9 metre long muscular tube that delivers food from entry to exit. As well as being responsible for transporting our food, the GI tract also breaks down and absorbs the nutrients from our food – so it has a pretty important job if you ask me!
Over recent years, we have learned about the existence of trillions of micro-organisms in the human gut, known as the gut microbiota. This community of microbes can have an impact not only on our gut health, but also our weight, mental health, immune system, and even the development of neurological conditions such as Parkinson’s disease. To say that gut health is central to overall health is an understatement!
The gut microbiota live along the GI tract, but the largest population live together in the large intestine. Everyone has a different combination and amount of microbes in their gut, so different that each of us has a microbiota completely individual to us! Even identical twins don’t have the same one, despite having the same DNA.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of what gut health means, let’s talk about how diet can help to improve gut health.
The microbes living in your gut need to be fed, just as your human cells do. Our human cells can’t break down fibre, so it travels all the way to the last part of the intestine, where our microbes get their hands on it. Fibre and other dietary components act as ‘prebiotics’, or food for our good gut bacteria – so if our diets are low in fibre, our gut bugs aren’t being fed.
Unfortunately, 80% of Irish adults are not eating enough fibre, which is not ideal when it comes to supporting a healthy microbiota. Plant foods contain different types of fibre that our resident microbes love to feast on, and by feeding them more of what they like, it helps them to grow and flourish. We can’t live without our gut microbiota, and they can’t live without us, so taking care of them allows them to take care of you.
In order to include more fibre in the diet, we need to be eating more plant foods, as fibre is naturally found in all plants. There are 6 different groups of plant foods, namely fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains and legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans and so on). Keep in mind that different microbes have different preferences, so it’s best to include lots of variety within these plant food groups to keep them all happy.
A great place to start if you’re keen to support your gut health is to start adding in more foods from each of the six plant groups mentioned above. Diversity is key, so try mixing up the plant foods you buy during your weekly shop. Remember to increase your fibre intake slowly, and make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids too to prevent any digestive discomfort.
About The Digestive Health Clinic
The Digestive Health Clinic was set up by Aoife McDonald, a Registered Dietitian, in response to the growing demand for evidence-based nutrition advice. “I have always been interested in nutrition and health, and I love food, so a career as a dietitian was a no brainer for me! My undergraduate degree in Nutritional Science was a brilliant course that gave me an in-depth understanding of nutrition, and it really stood to me when I went on to complete postgraduate training to become a dietitian. My favourite thing about being a dietitian is being able to share my knowledge and help people to improve their health, whether it be managing IBS symptoms, weight management, healthy ageing, heart health, women’s health – the list goes on! Working in private practice allows me the luxury of being able to give clients the time they need, in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. I strive to always provide clients with only the best and most up-to-date dietary advice.”