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How to have happy gut bugs

In the health arena, 2017 must surely be the Year of the Gut. We’ve never heard so much about our ‘microbiome’. But what does it mean for us day-to-day?

If you’ve watched TV programs such as Ask the Doctor or Catalyst, you’ll be aware that there’s a relationship between gut bugs, inflammation and obesity.

If you’re living on processed food, washed down with beer, wine and soft drink, you’re likely to have too many bad bugs, not enough good ones, and health problems to match.

A healthy gut is good at absorbing the nutrients from your food and keeps you regular and disease-free.

The basic idea isn’t new: a chap called Hippocrates, who lived around 400 years BC, proclaimed that all disease begins in the gut. It’s just that now we have the means to do things like gut bug analysis and faecal transplants.

Along with the spotlight on gut health, fermented foods are all the rage and fermentation workshops are popping up everywhere. Again, nothing new here: almost all traditional societies include enzyme-rich cultured or fermented foods.

But even if you’re not enthused about whipping up your own batches of sauerkraut or kefir, there’s plenty you can do to support the health of your gut.

And most of it you’ve heard before. 

First, and probably most importantly, eat plant-based meals. Remember MasterChef and the ‘hero ingredient’? Vegies, especially, deserve hero status — plenty of fibre and plenty of nutrients support happy gut bugs.

Fruit, legumes and whole grains come under the plant-based umbrella too. Include them according to what works for you. If a food makes you gassy and/or bloated, eat only small amounts and try increasing it gradually. Remember that not all foods suit every constitution.

Variety is also important, and you’ll manage that if you eat seasonally. For example, asparagus is a Spring vegetable and there’s been plenty of it around for the past few weeks.

Stay well hydrated, eat slowly and chew well. Don’t eat when you’re edgy or anxious. (I said you’d heard it before, but we all need reminding.)

By all means add fermented foods to your diet – such as a good quality yoghurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut or kimchi. But read the labels.

One supermarket line for a probiotic milk — clearly designed to look like Yakult — lists as its first four ingredients: water, fructose, sugar and glucose. Maybe they could call it Yuck-ult.

And be aware that if a product is sitting on the supermarket shelf at room temperature, the good bugs have been killed off or removed.

In summary, focus on plant-based meals, eat what’s in season, drink enough water and chew well. Make sure fermented foods aren’t swimming in sugar and salt.

One more thing: if you have to take antibiotics — especially for more than a few days — it can take your gut a long time to recover. A decent probiotic isn’t a bad idea. 

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017 | Rhonda Anderson