Top 5 tips to improve your gut health
Keep your gut happy with these simple, evidence-based food tips.
What we eat isn’t just for us, it’s for our gut microbes too…
Looking after your gut is important, even if you don’t suffer from gut-related issues. Research shows that gut health is linked to many aspects of health including immune health, metabolic and mental health.
We all have a unique gut microbiome that can be impacted by our environment and lifestyle, but what we eat is one of the key factors influencing it .
Despite what Google might say there is no magic superfood for better gut health. However, regularly including a variety of the below foods will help keep your gut happy. A happy and healthy gut means a happy and healthy you.
Try these ideas for some positive ways to look after your gut health.
1. Aim for 30+ different plants a week
Forget your 5 a day, research from the largest published study on the human microbiome  shows that we need to be eating 30+ different plants a week to support gut health.
The more diverse range of plants we eat, the more diverse our gut microbiome is. Low gut microbiome diversity has been observed in people with chronic health conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, type 1 and 2 diabetes, coeliac disease and obesity .
Plants are rich in dietary fibre which serves as food for our beneficial gut microbes to help them flourish .
You naturally might think of plants as just fruit and vegetables, but plants include legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains too.
Top tip: Eating 30+ a week might sound a lot initially but can be achieved through some easy swaps such as using a different wholegrain at meal times instead of rice, buying mixed beans instead of kidney beans, or using mixed seeds and nuts.
2. Make your plate colourful
As well as supporting gut microbiome diversity, plants are also rich in phytonutrients (or sometimes referred to as plant chemicals) which are proven to be beneficial to supporting overall health, as well gut health.
Phytonutrients are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits and give plants their distinctive colour. Different colours can have different health benefits  so the broader range of colours you eat the better. Think ‘eat the rainbow’.
It has been reported that there is a phytonutrient gap in many people’s diets with 8 out of 10 American adults not eating enough phytonutrients of every colour .
Polyphenols, a type of phytonutrient, have been widely studied for their effect on gut health. Polyphenols can help boost beneficial bacteria, such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus, have a prebiotic effect as well as inhibiting pathogenic bacteria .
Plants rich in polyphenols include purple and blue foods like berries and beetroot, vegetables such as artichokes, olives and asparagus, as well as drinks like tea and good quality coffee .
Top tip: Make each meal as colourful as possible with lots of different green, purple, yellow, red and orange foods.
3. Experiment with fermented foods
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and kimchi have recently grown in popularity due to their link with gut health, and can now be widely found on supermarket shelves.
Due to the fermentation process, they are thought to be a natural source of beneficial bacteria which could help to support gut health. The fermentation may also help to convert certain phytonutrients into a more active state, produce beneficial metabolites and have prebiotic properties .
Although more high-quality human trials are needed to investigate the health benefits for gut health, overall, they tend to be safe to include in your everyday diet (for most people) and can add lots of flavour to a meal. (Most research to date is on dairy-based kefir [6, 7, 8, 9, 10].)
It’s always best to introduce fermented foods slowly and build up. Try experimenting with a few to see what you like. Kimchi is great to have with eggs, a tablespoon of sauerkraut on a salad and kefir makes a great yoghurt replacement too.
Top tip: Opt for the plain versions of fermented foods as many shop-bought ones can be flavoured with sugar.
4. Make extra virgin olive oil your star oil
The health benefits of extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) are well known, but research is now showing that consuming it can be great for our gut health too.
It has been shown to help with bacterial diversity, and have anti-bacterial and prebiotic effects (encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria) .
The quality of the oil is important to ensure it's packed with lots of antioxidants and flavour. It is worth paying a bit more to avoid the products that can be more refined.
Top tip: Use it as a salad dressing or drizzle over meals before eating.
Get your Brain Health Score in 4 minutesTake the quiz
5. Watch out for processed food
A recent 2021 research project demonstrated the importance of diet quality for impacting the gut microbiome. A diet containing more highly processed plant-based foods (yes, not all plant-based foods are healthy!) was more associated with ‘bad’ gut microbes than a plant-based diet rich in less processed foods .
Many processed foods contain emulsifiers and/or artificial sweeteners to add shelf life and improve taste which has been shown to disrupt the gut microbiome  and promote the growth of less favourable bacteria .
Top tip: Ensuring your diet is abundant in lots of whole foods and different plants will mean you naturally will be consuming less processed foods. It’s what you eat most of the time that will make the biggest difference.
The good news is that changes in diet can impact the gut quickly. It is best to build up slowly if you’re new to eating lots of plants while your gut adjusts.
Try picking one of the gut nourishing ideas first and doing that regularly so it becomes part of your everyday diet. Sticking with these new gut-healthy habits in the long term will have the biggest impact.
**If you’re suffering from chronic gut symptoms or have recently noticed any changes it is always advisable to consult a healthcare practitioner.**
About the author
Michelle is a Registered Nutritional Therapist who helps busy professionals thrive. She specialises in improving gut health, mental wellbeing & energy.
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.yourheights.com. We like to allow our guest posters freedom in the products they mention, and in the way they approach ideas.