There has been great interest over recent times in the benefits of a healthy gut microbiome to our health and wellbeing, not only our digestive health but also our immunity and mental health.
To put it simply, our gut microbiome describes the balance of bacteria that reside there including both beneficial and non-beneficial bacteria. Because what we eat hugely affects the make-up of our gut microbiome, we need to know what foods to enjoy on a daily basis.
The two main beneficial bacteria that live in our gut that you are likely to have heard of are probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics are live bacteria naturally found in certain foods. Once ingested, they deliver the beneficial bacteria to your gut. Rich food sources of probiotics include yoghurt containing live bacteria (such as Lactobacillus and Bifida bacteria) as well as fermented foods such as kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, sourdough and kimchi. Most of which are readily available at both supermarkets and health food stores. The sourdough you could buy from a baker or someone who bakes their own and is happy to make extra! Or you could give it a go at making your own at home. I’ve been making a brown rice sourdough at home now for a number of months and really love the ritual of feeding my starter daily and baking it fresh a few times each week!
Prebiotics are the non-digestible parts of food that stimulate the growth of the healthy probiotics in the gut and hence are needed to maintain gut health. They are found in fibre-rich foods such as whole grains, legumes, beans and of course colourful fruit and vegetables. Another reason to eat the rainbow on a daily basis! One of the most well-known and researched prebiotics is fructose-oligosaccharides (FOS). It is found naturally in foods such as onion, Jerusalem artichokes and chicory root but is found in the highest concentrations in a tuber called Yacon.
If you are new to Yacon like me, they are shaped like a kumara and taste similar to a pear and originate from the Andes. However, the Yacon cultivar grown in the North Island here in New Zealand has the highest concentration of FOS in the world making it a delicious and nutritious source of FOS to support gut and overall health. Yacon New Zealand have also extracted the juice to create a Yacon concentrate/syrup which can be eaten just like honey and provides a rich source of gut-loving FOS. I was lucky enough to be sent some to try and it tastes just like molasses. My Dad looovvved it too! Interestingly, short chain fatty acids (SCFA) which are the end products of FOS fermentation by the intestinal microbiome, not only support the growth of beneficial bacteria as mentioned above but also help to reduce or maintain unhealthy bacteria populations at low levels.
So what does the above mean on a daily and practical level?
To achieve and maintain a healthy gut and intestinal microbiome (and hence optimal immunity and mental health too!), we need to eat a diverse array of probiotic- and fibre-rich foods on a daily basis to provide both the good bacteria to our gut and the fuel they need to flourish. If that all sounds confusing, just aim to enjoy an array of plant-based foods on a daily basis such as grains, legumes, colourful fruits and vegetables along with some yoghurt and other fermented foods. If you aren’t currently eating many of the above, just start slowly by introducing a few each day and gradually build up your intake.
Some easy and practical ideas are things such as...
Porridge or homemade muesli topped with quality yoghurt (make sure it has live bacteria by checking the ingredients list) and fresh seasonal fruit
Trying kefir yoghurt as a snack – I like this thick and delicious Blueberry Hemp one!
Adding sauerkraut to salads or dolloping a spoonful over eggs and spinach on sourdough
Enjoying a kombucha alongside dinner
Making your own homemade hummus to enjoy alongside sliced carrots/cucumber/peppers
Enjoying miso paste and greens on homemade or bought sourdough – Urban Hippie do a lovely Miso
As the weather warms up, make colourful snack platters to share containing sliced vegetables, colourful fruits, nuts and bean-based dips.
Enjoying bowls of colourful seasonal salads/vegetables with meals
Start your day with a nutrient-dense and delicious smoothie made with array of rainbow fruits and vegetables. I have loads of recipes here that you could try!
I hope this helps to explain a little bit about gut health and how we can all do a few delicious and practical things each day to take of it and as a result our overall health and well-being.
Salted Caramel Smoothie
A delicious way to enjoy fruit and vegetables in a smoothie containing both pre- and probiotics.
1 cup water
2 Tbspn live yoghurt
2 pitted dried dates
1 Tbspn peanut butter
1 frozen sliced banana
3 frozen cauliflower florets
1 Tbspn Yacon concentrate + extra to drizzle (optional or use honey or pure maple syrup)
Blend until creamy and serve. Enjoy!
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