We Quizzed A Nutritionist About Good Gut Health and Here's Everything You Need to Know
When it comes to health, experts often say good health starts in your gut. Your gut health can impact so many aspects of both your physical wellbeing, through effective absorption of micronutrients and immune function, and your mental wellbeing, via feedback on the gut-brain axis.
To explain if further, we caught up with nutritionist Jacqueline Alwill (you might recognise her as @brownpapernutrition on Instagram) to fill us in on everything from what role our lifestyle plays in our gut health to how you can improve your gut health if this year hasn't quite gone to plan (hi, us!).
Scroll to read the full interview:
POPSUGAR Australia: Why is gut health so important?
Jacqueline Alwill: The gut encompasses the entirety of our digestive tract from our mouth right through to our colon. Gut health isn't just about the latter end of our digestive tract (large intestine/bowel) and the gut microbiome, but maintaining the health of the digestive tract overall.
This is why chewing your food, your oral health, ensuring healthy levels of stomach acids and the intake of plenty of fibre rich foods is so important because each affects different parts of our gut to create an overall positive impact on gut health.
PS: What contributes to good gut health?
- Fibre-Rich Diet: An abundance of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, legumes and whole grains. Think about crowding your plate or snacks with these foods — aiming for about half a plate full of vegetables before adding protein, etc. to up your intake.
- Inclusion of Prebiotic Rich Foods: Which provide the fuel/energy source for the good bacteria in the gut. Aim to include a variety of these in your everyday cooking — garlic, onion, leek, asparagus, artichoke, prunes, brussels sprouts, legumes.
- Plenty of Probiotic Rich Foods: Such as cultured and fermented foods including yoghurt, sauerkraut and kimchi, miso, kombucha and tempeh. An unsweetened yoghurt after your meal with fresh berries is a lovely option for dessert, add sauerkraut and kimchi to salads, wraps, sandwiches and enjoy miso as a delicious warming and gut-loving soup.
- Regular Exercise: Aim for 30 minutes daily of any kind of movement. Exercise exerts a positive benefit on gut health, improving the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFA).
- Creating Time to Eat: Focus on sitting and being present with your meals, mindfully chewing each mouthful undistracted rather than eating on the go while staring at emails or social media. This has a positive effect on the breakdown of our food, absorption of nutrients and messaging to the brain for satiety.
PS: What are the benefits of having good gut health?
Jacqueline: A healthy gut can support our physical wellbeing through effective absorption of micronutrients, mental wellbeing via feedback on the gut-brain axis, and immune function as 70 to 80 percent of our immune cells are housed in the gut. It plays a far greater role than simply breaking down and excreting the food we eat.
PS: Should we be resetting our gut health every so often? If so, how can we do that?
Jacqueline: I encourage people to aim for long-term habits that are sustainable when thinking about resetting their gut health. A healthy diet and supplementation of certain nutrients can help to build gut health and if you feel as though you've gone a bit off-course (this year has definitely derailed most of us!) then get back to basics with your food and supplement accordingly.
Nutrients such as milk thistle, curcumin, apple cider vinegar and magnesium are incredibly beneficial for gut health. Aim for high quality supplementation of these nutrients if you are starting to rebuild your gut health again. Local Australian brand, Healthy Care, (born on Sydney's Northern Beaches) is my go-to for these supplements and, of course, plenty of fibre rich foods to fuel the gut and you'll be on the right path.
PS: Can you explain what pre and probiotics are and the difference between them?
Jacqueline: Prebiotics include fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS), galacto-oligosaccharides (GOS) and inulin which we find in fruits and vegetables such as dates, prunes, watermelon, grapefruit, artichokes, asparagus, chicory, garlic, leek, onion, brussels sprouts; grains including barley, freekeh, and rye; nuts such as almonds and cashews, and also in legumes, dandelion tea and human milk (human milk oligosaccharides), cow and goat milk (GOS).
While most prebiotics are a type of dietary fibre, not all fibre is prebiotic. And, whilst fibre plays many different roles, prebiotics must show (through scientific trial) that they induce a beneficial health effect and fuel the microbes (good bugs) in our gut. Prebiotics fuel the living bugs in our gut to produce beneficial compounds. The health of our gut bacteria cannot survive without fibre and prebiotics. Both support the growth and diversity of beneficial bacterial species in our gut.
Probiotics are beneficial microbes (bugs) for both gut and overall human health. To be a probiotic there must be large numbers of these living microbes with evidence that they have a health benefit. Probiotics are important as they help to boost the number and diversity of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Consuming probiotic-rich foods can help to correct imbalances of bacteria — good vs. bad. Probiotics can help the digestion of our foods, absorption of nutrients, reduce digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea and flatulence, boost immune function and support skin health.
PS: What are the benefits of pre and probiotics? Should we be taking them?
Jacqueline: Prebiotics fuel the good bacteria in the gut. While probiotics support the number and diversity of good bacteria in the gut and can help correct bacteria imbalances. There is time and place for supplementing with pre- and probiotics and using the correct strains of probiotics is important for treating symptoms, dysbiosis and other more specific conditions of the gut.