Updated: Mar 30, 2021
“All disease begins in the gut” this famous, and insightful statement was quoted by the Godfather of Medicine – Hippocrates, some 2,500 years ago.
Fast forward to now, with the advancements in science, medicine and the understanding of the human body, and we can see quite clearly that he could not have been more accurate.
The current belief is; You are what your Microbiome does for you. But what is this “microbiome”? What exactly does it do for us? And most importantly, how can we optimise it to benefit our health?
The Microbiome refers to the microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, yeast, parasites – collectively called microbiotia), that reside in us, as well as on all of our external tissues. Within the gut alone these organisms outnumber our own cells 10:1, meaning essentially we are only 10% human, and 10% microbiotia!
We have a mutual, or symbiotic, relationship with the microbiota in our gut most specifically. We feed them, and then in turn the compounds they release from metabolising our food do wonderful things for our health. They are essential to our survival, and for the ability of our health to thrive.
Some of the many jobs the gut microbiome is involved in include;
Improving digestion and assimilation of nutrients
Enhancing our immunity
Improving cardiovascular health
Helping to control the nervous system, and even regulating mental disorders
Prevention of weight gain and diabetes
What we now know is that each of us has a unique balance and ratio of these trillions of organisms, almost like our individual fingerprint. Sometimes the balance can be unhealthy, and cause negative effects to our health, this state is called “dysbiosis”, an imbalance of beneficial versus harmful bacteria. The good news – we can manipulate this balance, so that it favours the beneficial organisms to be the most dominant, and how do we do this? Via our diet!
Over our lifetime around 60 tonnes of food passes through the gut, and everything we choose to eat, manipulates our gut bacteria in one way or another. The balance and expression of our gut bacteria has been shown to shift in just 24 hours after changing our diet, that’s how powerful it is. Below are a few key suggestions that help move our guts microbiome to a healthier and more helpful balance, therefore greatly improving your health body wide.
Fibre is your gut microbiotas favourite food, eating enough fibre ensures that we have a diverse range of healthy bacteria in the gut. They feed on fibre and release compounds that enhance our health. Enough fibre also ensures we have regular bowel habits, which is another important step to great gut health. Sadly 90% of Australian adults are not eating enough fruit and vegetables each day, and these are our top fibre foods.
Tip – make sure around 50% of the plate at main meals is dedicated to fruits and/or vegetables, aim for a variety in these foods too, as it has been shown that different foods enhance different species of microbiota.
My favourite gut healing foods! Fermented foods both increase our digestive breakdown of foods, and they are especially rich in lactobacillus strains, it has been shown that people who consume regular fermented foods have greater numbers of these bacteria in their gut, and thus a stronger immune system. Fermented foods are sour, so can be a bit confronting to begin with, especially for kids, so I like to ease them into it with the following options.
Coconut yoghurt – added to breakfast, or added to smoothies, it also makes a great “dessert” alongside fresh fruit.
Kombucha – can be served as a “special drink” as it is fizzy, and resembles a soft drink, but with far greater health benefits.
Kefir – This comes in 2 types, milk kefir which is like a runny yoghurt and is great added to smoothies or used as you would a yoghurt, and water kefir, which is similar to kombucha and is a fizzy style drink.
Sauerkraut – Fermented vegetables, usually cabbage (but I always add other ingredients such as beetroot and carrot when I make mine!), you can add small amounts through salads, or put into sandwiches and wraps to get used to it first, otherwise I serve 1-2 tablespoons alongside main meals.
All fermented foods can be made at home really easily and for minimal cost, you can also access them from health stores, health focused cafes and markets and also the supermarket now stocks a great range.
It is also important to note that the foods we eat can also have a negative impact on our gut microbiota and the health of the system as a whole, so take note of the foods below that need moderating...
An excess of meat shifts towards bacterium that trigger inflammation and intestinal disease. Keep red meat to 2 serves per week, and as a general rule a serving of meat at main meals should be about palm sized (that leaves plenty of room on your plate for those fibre rich fruits or vegetables!).
Additives and Preservatives
these have been shown to cause inflammation on the gut lining, and change the balance of bacteria causing dysbiosis. Begin to read food labels, taking note of the ingredients list and wherever possible avoid regular consumption of “numbers” in the ingredients listing. A mantra I teach all of my clients is “eat nutrients not numbers”, our body does not have the enzymes to eat these artificial substances, hence why they become problematic in the gut.
Interestingly a high sugar diet changes the balance of our gut bacteria, and when we have an imbalance we tend to have stronger sugar cravings, and therefore it becomes a perpetuating cycle. Once again read food labels and wherever possible avoid added sugars. Opt for higher quality sugars in your diet such as honey, pure maple syrup – still used mindfully, and utilise foods like fruit or dates to sweeten baking and treats.
So remember, its not just disease that begins in the gut, but HEALTH begins in the gut too! Making gut health a priority in the home will make for a happier and healthier family. And in just 24 hours of changing your diet to include more nourishing food options your precious microbiome will be changing for the better. Small changes make huge impacts overtime.
April Butt is a Holistic Nutritionist, a Functional Health Practitioner and a Mum of two. She uses Nutrition as the central focus to restore health and wellbeing in her patients. April strongly believes that the mind, body, soul and our environment are strongly interconnected when it comes to our health either struggling, or thriving and believes that finding a balance between them all is our ticket to optimum health. April has a special interest in Gut health, immune disorders and restoring health for the post natal mother, and has a passion and flair for creating wholesome delicious meals
Find out more at: