What should I eat for a healthy gut?

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1. Think bacteria are bad? Think again

Bacteria and other microbes (including fungi and viruses) are often thought of as sources of disease, but in fact many play an essential role in keeping you healthy.

Your body contains trillions of microbes, most of which are beneficial. The most dense microbe population is in your gut, where they play a critical role in digestion, immune function and weight regulation.

What you eat can quickly change your microbes, but are you eating the right foods to help your good gut bacteria?

2. Why microbes matter

How microbes affect all aspects of our lives - from breathing to the food we eat.

Studies have associated microbes with a lower incidence of cancer, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, asthma, depression, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, colic, Parkinson's and many allergies. However, much more research is required to be certain of their role in keeping us healthy.

3. Eating right for your microbes

What you eat isn't just nutrition for you, it also feeds the trillions of bacteria that live in your gut.

Every person is different, but if you want to improve your digestion, lose weight or look after your general health, there are some broad principles that apply to all.

Easy tips for gut health

  1. Eat a wide range of plant-based foods. A healthy gut has a diverse community of microbes, each of which prefer different foods.
  2. Eat more fibre. Most people eat less than they should. Fruit, vegetables, pulses, nuts and wholegrains feed healthy bacteria.
  3. Avoid highly processed foods. They often contain ingredients that either suppress 'good' bacteria or increase 'bad' bacteria.
  4. Probiotic foods, such as live yoghurt, might encourage more microbes to grow. Eat them if you enjoy them.
  5. Choose extra-virgin olive oil over other fats when you can. It contains the highest number of microbe-friendly polyphenols.
  6. Antibiotics kill ‘good’ bacteria as well as ‘bad’. If you need antibiotics, make sure you eat lots of foods that boost your microbes afterwards.
  7. If your diet is low in fibre, a sudden increase can cause wind and bloating. This is less likely if you make gradual changes and drink extra water.

Probiotics vs prebiotics

Prebiotics are foods that ‘fertilise’ our existing gut bacteria and encourage the development of a diverse community of microbes. These foods are complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and wholegrains. Probiotics are foods, or food supplements, that contain live bacteria thought to be beneficial to us. This includes live yoghurt, some cheeses and fermented foods.

4. The truth about ‘healthy gut’ foods

These popular foods are often claimed to benefit your gut – but what's the truth? Click on the hand icon to find out.

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5. The diet plans of the future

Scientists in Israel have proven that we all respond differently to the same foods – even identical twins will differ. But why do our bodies vary so much?

Trust Me, I'm a Doctor's Dr Saleyha Ahsan talks to Dr Eran Elinav, one of the researchers in a study of 1000 people in Israel that is revolutionising our understanding of the role of gut bacteria in our health.