Beat the Winter blues & improve your gut health: Top 7 ways to support your gut microbiome
The winter holidays may be a magical time, though rich food, alcohol, and stress are all factors with the potential to shift the gut microbiome towards disarray. As the new decade begins, many of us will be exploring ways to take better care of ourselves. If your focus involves achieving a healthy weight and boosting your mood or performance, a gentle gut reset may be just what you need to get back on an even keel.
Create a welcoming home for your microbiota
Our gut provides a home to trillions of bacteria and yeasts known as microflora. It’s essential for our health that we encourage the most helpful of those guests and gently persuade the less agreeable to live elsewhere. The right population may support our brain health or encourage our immune system to function correctly, or even influence our metabolism.
Although we cannot see these little guys, they outnumber all the other cells in our body put together. One of the best ways to keep them happy is to eat an abundant array of plant varieties each day. This encourages a diverse population of beneficial microbes, which may be the best way to help prevent allergies and inflammatory symptoms.
1/ Include liver loving foods
A good all-year-round tip though especially important when we are asking our bodies to adapt to additional challenges.
Liver supporting food and drink include dark green leafy vegetables, beetroot (raw grated and cooked,) garlic, onions, artichoke, tahini, raw juiced veggies, and lots of fiber-rich fruit and veg.
2/ Reduce your eating window
A 12-hour eating window might be between 8am and 8pm. Eating earlier in the evening will provide a good amount of time overnight for your body to fast. When we have a break from snacking, we give our body a chance to repair crucial structures within the gut that keep everything functioning as it should[i]. This is also a technique that may be beneficial for achieving a healthy weight.
3/ Eat the rainbow to support a diverse population
This means upping our fibre intake by increasing the fruit and vegetables we have on a daily basis. If you already have 5 a day, explore ways to get that figure up to 7 or even 9 portions a day. Our gut microbes ferment the fibre we eat to produce short-chain fatty acids. Butyrate is probably the most well understood of these and shows promise in reducing appetite amongst other beneficial effects.
4/ Variety is the spice of life
Our ancestral way of eating included a natural abundance of plant varieties. A wide array of plant nutrients supports the diversity of healthy microbes. Challenge yourself to try new and different plant foods and look for seasonal varieties in your local market or veg box scheme. Try adding extra herbs and spices to your meals.
5/ Prebiotics encourage probiotics
Prebiotics are are special kind of plant fibre from whole food. Our body doesn’t digest these and they instead make their way through our system where they feed our good gut bacteria. Look out for vegetables rich in inulin which are especially high in this prebiotic fibre. Choose artichokes, leeks, onions and garlic for their prebiotic qualities. If you know you react to these foods try some of the other techniques first and then reintroduce them slowly.
6/ Polyphenols for phytochemical power
Choose food and drinks rich in polyphenols. Polyphenols are naturally found in plant foods and they may have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory function within the body. Consuming plenty of colourful phytonutrient rich fruit and veg may even help boost the effectiveness of probiotics or encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria[ii]. These plant nutrients function as fuel for the beneficial microbes in our gut.
Polyphenols are found in nuts, seeds, berries, olive oil, brassicas, cocoa, coffee, tea - especially green tea and kombucha, fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, coriander, chives, sage, garlic and wild garlic.
7/ Include probiotics to support the growth of beneficial bacteria
Probiotic food and drinks are often fermented or raw and contain live microbes. Kefir and kombucha are of particular interest for encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. If supplementing or including functional food and drink, look for strains that have been shown to have a beneficial effect and include them in your daily practice.
The beginning of a new year is an opportune time to explore the benefits of nutrient-dense food and drink. It’s also a time when we may jump into a crash diet or a rigorous plan we are unable to sustain. If we instead commit to smaller, more manageable changes over a longer period of time, we can use this momentum to spark the flame of a journey to long term health.
If you experience any gastrointestinal symptoms or have a diagnosed condition we recommend you discuss treatment options with your GP as well as with a registered nutritionist specialising in gut health. Your nutritionist will work alongside you and your GP to give you the best and safest support possible.
[i]Giulia Enders. Gut: the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ 2015
[ii]Fernando Cardona et al. Benefits of polyphenols on gut microbiota and implications in human health,
The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnutbio.2013.05.001.