Earlier this year, I asked some of my dietitian colleagues, What is something you’ve learned recently, and why does it interest you? Surprisingly, three of them gave me the same response: eating for a healthy gut.


“I love learning. Currently, the majority of my research focuses on gut health. I recently attended a conference in Paris on the gut microbiome, and am thrilled to see how nutrition plays a major role in gut health and disease. People are invested in improving gut health - because it influences so many other things - mental health, disease risk and development, and so much more. Bottom line: Eat whole foods, mostly plants.” 

~Andrea Hardy, RD (ignitenutrition.ca or Twitter/IG: @AndreaHardyRD)

 

“Learning more about beneficial bacteria and how the foods we eat affect our gut and overall health. It is extremely exciting science. From nutrient transport, to disease prevention and weight management. I’m looking forward to following the evidence and tasting new and improved recipes!”

~Emily Mardell, RD (getjoyfull.comor Twitter/IG: @GetJoyfull)

 

“I am fascinated by the gut microbiome and how it influences our health and wellness. I am also fascinated that we can influence the health of our gut microbiome by the foods we eat (and don’t eat). This finding reinforces how critical it is to nourish our body with healthful foods most of the time.” ~Kristyn Hall, MSc, RD (energizenutrition.ca or FB: @EnergizeNutritionInc)

 

Healing your gut

The concept of healing your gut is trending in the media these days. From happy gut cookbooks to fermented foods, having a healthy gut is in vogue, and promoted as a miracle cure. However, in this age of “microbio-mania,” some of the benefits are being oversold, since no studies have been done that prove a certain eating pattern can fix or heal the gut. Today I’m sharing the facts on what registered dietitians have learned thus far and what you should be eating to improve your gut health.

 
What exactly is a healthy gut?

 Trillions of bacteria live in your gut, which is called the gut microbiota. Your gut microbiota is as unique as your fingerprint; each person has over 500 different species of bacteria living there. The two main roles of these bacteria are to prevent pathogens (disease-causing bacteria, fungi or viruses) from growing and to boost your immunity. Many factors affect the type and amount of bacteria living in your gut microbiota, such as

  •  genes
  • where you live
  • diet
  • medications and antibiotics

To date, scientists have not been able to define what exactly it means to have a healthy gut. They know that diversity and richness (e.g. many types and high amounts of good bacteria) in the gut microbiota are linked to greater overall health. The ratio of different types of bacteria seems to be key, but no one knows what is ideal.

 

Four tips to improve your gut health

 It’s quite amazing that changing your diet can alter your gut microbiota in just three days. We are in the early stages of learning how specific foods affect your body. Some researchers believe that personalized nutrition advice, rather than general guidelines, are the way of the future. For now, use these tips to improve your gut health.


1. Eat a variety of whole and minimally-processed foods, and focus on balance.

This advice tops the list for most dietitians I know. Start with a trip to the grocery store, and fill your cart with whole and minimally-processed foods. Then, head to the kitchen. Want to cook a gourmet meal? Do it! Need something simple? Go ahead! No matter what you prepare, aim to create a balanced plate where vegetables and fruit take up the most real estate. Strive for healthy snacks most often too. These practices will help you avoid the typical “Western diet” (e.g. sweets, fast food, lots of meat, white bread and pasta), which has been linked to health problems and promotes chronic low-grade inflammation.


2. Add more fibre, especially prebiotics and resistant starch.

Fibre has a big impact on gut microbiota; but, many Canadians only get about half the fibre they need. Two types of fibre have a special role to support the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Prebiotics are found in many high-fibre foods such as chicory, garlic, leek, onion, asparagus and Jerusalem artichoke. Resistant starch is found in foods such as beans, lentils, under-ripe bananas and uncooked rolled oats. While more needs to be learned about ideal amounts of these types of fibre, it is a good idea to increase your total fibre intake and include the foods mentioned above. One tip: increase your fibre intake slowly and increase fluid intake to prevent stomach upset.


3. Consume probiotic-containing foods and supplements.

Probiotics are live microorganisms that provide health benefits when consumed in ample amounts. You can read more about them in Probiotics: Healthy from the Inside Out. Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt and kefir, are deemed probiotics only when they have specific probiotic strains added to them. Look for the name of the bacteria (e.g. Bifidobacterium lactis) on the food label and ingredient list. Refer to this Canadian resource to choose a probiotic supplement appropriate to specific health issues (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome). Then, find the specific strain and dose you should take.


4. Eat more fermented foods.

Fermented foods, such as kombucha, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, yogurt and kefir, are all the rage these days. While these foods contain beneficial bacteria and have been linked to health benefits, they fail to meet the definition of a probiotic because specific bacteria strains are not identified. Many fermented foods you buy from the store in cans or jars may not contain live bacteria if they have been heat treated to make them shelf-stable. Thus, look for the words “live active culture” on the food label to ensure you get the health benefits.

 

Bottom line

 Having a healthy gut is likely to remain a hot trend for a while. Treat your meals and snacks as a chance to feed your microbiota; your stomach and your health will thank you. If you want to learn more, check out this great video.


AFLCA members 

 Are you looking for practical nutrition tools for your clients? Log in to the AFLCA Members section of the website and order free resources today! Great options to compliment this blog include The Balanced Plate and Smart Snacks.

 

 

This blog was inspired by the lecture of Natasha Haskey, MSc, RD at the 2017 Nutrition File Seminar.



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Jaclyn Chute, RD

Registered Dietitian

Jaclyn (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and Project Manager at Dairy Farmers of Canada. She believes eating should be both nourishing and satisfying, and is passionate about helping others develop a healthy relationship with food.

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