So what does 'the gut' do?
The gut is a powerhouse that’s vital for keeping our body in tip-top shape. On a basic level, it breaks down the food we eat (digestion), and extracts and absorbs the nutrients from it. But there’s so much more than that. The gut is vital for immune function, and amazingly, around 70% of our immune system is located in the gut.[Source] So this literally means good health originates in the gut. The gut not only aids digestion, but by maintaining a strong gut wall, it blocks out harmful microbes that could make us unwell.
There are so many other factors that the gut has influence over - it helps regulate weight, metabolism, and even our mood - in fact, there have been major studies into the link between the gut and the brain, and our emotional well-being. [Source]
What lives in the gut?
Your gut is home to around 100 trillion living bacteria (microbes) that are collectively known as ‘the gut microbiome’. These can either be ‘good’ or ‘bad’ bacteria, and it’s the good ones we want to encourage to live in your gut. Ok, we know it sounds a bit freaky, but don’t be alarmed, these little guys are actually your biggest allies. Best of all, you can easily influence your gut microbiome to encourage more 'friendly' bacteria to live in there.
Probiotics vs prebiotics - please explain...
You might have heard of both of these buzzwords, but what’s the difference?
Well, prebiotics help stimulate and feed the existing good bacteria in the gut, so it can grow. You could think of prebiotics as a fertiliser for gut health. Prebiotics are found in foods such as oats, flaxseed, Jerusalem artichokes, barley, leeks, beans, bananas, onions, garlic, asparagus, and chicory root.
Probiotics, on the other hand, are foods that are already loaded with live micro-organisms, so you’re essentially adding good bacteria for the gut (think of all the fermented foods - e.g. sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha).
So which foods are good for gut health?
Something to get your head around, is that when you’re eating well, you’re also feeding the bacteria that lives in your gut. Eating for two?!
In general, a diverse range of plant-based foods are good for your gut. It’s beneficial to have lots of fibre in your diet, as high fibre foods (such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and wholegrains) are fuel for good bacteria. The body can’t digest fibre, but bacteria in your gut can digest it, which helps them grow.
Avoid anything too highly processed with artificial ingredients (these foods can increase ‘bad’ bacteria or suppress the work of the ‘good’ bacteria). This includes too many artificial sweeteners.
Probiotic foods such as live yoghurts are excellent for gut health (watch out for high added sugar levels though and opt for natural where you can). Other probiotic-rich foods include the fermented joys such as, sauerkraut (fermented cabbage with sea salt), miso (fermented soy beans), kefir (fermented milk), kombucha (a fermented drink made with something called a ‘scoby’), and kimchi (a Korean dish of fermented vegetables - usually cabbage, with spices).
We actually do our own HIIT Kitchen kimchi which not only helps us combat food waste (by using by-products from other dishes and fermenting them), but it’s also fantastic for good gut health. Check out the photo below (our Vegan Thai Red Curry with Coconut Rice, and Cauliflower Kimchi). You can check if it's on the menu this week here.
We also stock a variety of flavours of Kombucha by a fantastic company called Remedy Drinks which you can find here.
Sourdough bread is another delicious fermented food. It’s made using a fermentation process using a live, fermented sourdough starter. It doesn’t have any commercial yeast in it, and has a characteristic tangy flavour. The fermentation time can take 24+ hours, and during this time, the gluten is broken down, which makes it easier to digest (so a great alternative to mass-produced white bread). Most commercially, mass-produced bread is made with commercial yeast, which causes the bread to rise more quickly.
So what is fermentation?
Fermentation at its basic level is a technique of preserving food. It’s been used for thousands of years. The process varies for each fermented food you make (for example - there’s acetic acid fermentation, alcohol fermentation, and lactic acid fermentation), but the basic concept is that microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast convert carbohydrates (such as starch or sugar) into acids or alcohol. By doing this, the food becomes more nutritious (probiotics are created, as well as vitamins and minerals), and it’s a great way to preserve food for a longer period of time.
Can food affect my mood?
In short, the answer is YES! Serotonin is known as the ‘happy hormone’ and low serotonin levels are often linked to depression and anxiety. Studies have shown that gut bacteria produce around 95% of the body’s serotonin levels, which consequently influences mood and GI activity. [Source]
What things other than food can influence the gut microbiome?
Obviously food is a sure-fire way to diversify your gut microbiome but actually, lots of other things can influence this. From living in a rural area/spending time gardening, to having pets, or being vegetarian. These elements can all have an influence on the diversity of the gut microbiome. There’s so much fascinating research occurring right now in the field of gut health, such as the British Gut Project, which “aim is to uncover the microbial content within the guts of British individuals.”
To Sum It Up...
The gut is a wonderful thing, and we encourage you to take care of yours! The gut is often referred to as our “second brain”, as it’s “the only organ to boast its own independent nervous system, an intricate network of 100 million neurons embedded in the gut wall.” [Source] How cool is that?
At HIIT Kitchen HQ, we find it amazing that the bacteria in our gut can affect both your mind and your body. The incredible thing is, if you look after your gut, it will, in turn look after you. It's completely in your control to improve your microbiome, and consequently improve your physical and psychological well-being.
Remember - everything you eat, is feeding your community of gut microbiome, as well as yourself. It comes down to this, good gut bacteria = good health, so feed your gut well, and feel well at the same time!