You may have heard about the gut-brain relationship—it is a fascinating area, and one that may explain a lot when it comes to nervous tummy or upset stomach. We can all complain of some gut-related symptoms from time to time such as wind, bloating, heartburn, nausea, altered bowel habits and abdominal pain. And often, these symptoms are linked with anxiety, stress or depression. Research is now telling us that the gut is our second brain. The gut-brain axis is a term for the communication network that connects our gut and brain. Their connection can play a significant role in our overall health, including physical and mental health.
Would you believe that the gut is home to more than 100,000 trillion microorganisms that live and interact within our bodies? Our lifestyles and behaviours can impact the gut microbiota. A diverse, healthy diet remains one of the most powerful ways to influence the gut and its microbiota.
So, what’s the difference between Prebiotics, Probiotics and Fermented Foods?
Prebiotics are types of dietary fibre that feed the friendly bacteria in your gut. These are in fruits, vegetables, beans, pulses and some nuts.
Probiotics are ‘good’ or ‘helpful’ bacteria that keep our gut healthy. Yogurt is one of the best-known foods with probiotics, but it can also come from some fermented foods too or of course in tablet form. Fermented foods are developed through the natural process of fermentation where bacteria and yeast are converted to carbohydrates. Such foods made using this process today include yogurt, cheese, sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi and kombucha.
Including up to 3 different plant foods daily, from a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, will help you have a healthy, happy gut. Research points to a happy gut leading to a happy mind. It is a complex area but definitely worth a try!
Top suggestions for a healthier gut
- Aim to have 3 plant foods daily
- Eat whole foods and avoid packaged or processed foods, which are high in unwanted food additives and preservatives that disrupt the healthy bacteria in the gut
- Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables
- Eat enough fibre by including whole grains, nuts & seeds, fruits & veg and legumes—all contain prebiotic fibres that are good for your gut bacteria
- Include probiotic-rich foods such as plain yogurt without added sugars
- Adding fermented foods such as kefir (unsweetened), sauerkraut, or kimchi can be helpful to maintain a healthy gut
- Try to include two portions of oily fish per week. Omega 3 found in oily fish has been shown to increase good bacteria in the gut
- Eat a balance of seafood and lean poultry, and less red meat each week
- Avoid restrictive diets, focus on what you can add to your diet rather than what you can take away and if in doubt ask a dietitian