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Eat your way to better gut health

Louise Jones, founder of Food for Thought Cookery School, offers some tips on how to eat for a happier, healthier gut

If you think of a garden, our gut is like the soil. In order for plants to thrive and grow strong, the soil needs the right nutrient levels and bacterial balance to support growth. In the same way, for us to be healthy and flourish, we need to eat the highest quality and the most nutrient-dense whole foods. We need water, care, attention, fertiliser, sun and light, fresh air, time, resting and to avoid chemicals where possible.

We start by sowing the seeds in the soil, which are the probiotics. These include live cultures such as natural yogurt, miso, fermented products, kefir and kombucha. The soil (our gut) then needs fertiliser or feed which are the prebiotics, a diverse range of plants and fibres. Think nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, beans and pulses, plus fresh herbs and spices.

A garden also thrives best without chemicals or pesticides. This means avoiding ultra-processed food, antibiotics and foods containing preservatives, man-made chemicals and additives. Finally, it needs water to stay hydrated.

Our microbes protect their environment and, in turn, protect us. The healthier the microbiome, the more diverse the colony and the better their responses are. Make a broad spectrum of plant foods a cornerstone of your diet to nurture this amazing ecosystem and your “garden” of microbes will flourish.

Adding more fibre and a diversity of foods can affect the balance of our microbiome in just a few weeks. Start slowly, introducing one or two new plant sources a week if you don’t eat enough fibre at present. The average UK adult eats 17g a day when we should be eating 30g a day of fibre.

The gut is one of the most complex systems in the body. It’s home to around 1,000 species of bacteria. Your gut microbes make vitamins, amino acids (which are your protein building blocks), hormones and serotonin. Your gut prevents invasion from bad microbes, metabolises drugs and gets rid of toxins. It produces important molecules that strengthen the gut barrier and may help to balance blood sugar levels, lower blood fats, regulate appetite, facilitate communication with the brain and ultimately help prevent disease.

Everyone is different and your microbes are as unique as your fingerprints. But once you start to improve your gut health you’ll notice more balanced digestion, experience more energy and clarity of mind, and you’ll notice clearer, firmer, more glowing skin and healthy, strong hair and nails. Many people notice the improvements in their skin first, simply because our skin is such a great gauge for what’s going on inside our gut. Where there’s gut inflammation, there’s also skin inflammation. For example, eczema and psoriasis could be helped with diet.

It doesn’t sound very glamorous, but the gut is truly where the seeds for optimal health, beauty and wellbeing are planted. Did you know that 70 per cent of our immune system lies within our gut? Not only does this have a huge impact on the health of our skin, but it also affects our immunity, metabolism, brain function and mood.

We need to start thinking of our gut microbes as our best friends. What do they need to thrive? What’s going to support them? It’s about eating better rather than eating less. What can you add to your plate to give it more diversity? Can you add a sprinkling of seeds to your salad? One more vegetable to your dinner? A handful of nuts to your breakfast? How about some beans or lentils into the soup you are making? Small changes can make a really big difference.

Your microbes help to determine how much energy you extract from food and to some extent how much weight you put on. They also influence how much your blood sugar levels respond to particular foods. A healthy biome is home to a rich diversity of microbes. Too much processed foods and antibiotics may damage your biome, but you can shift this in a healthier direction with the foods you eat, what you drink and through your lifestyle choices.

Making simple, positive changes like adding more fibre in your diet, incorporating more exercise, and less unnecessary medication is how to get a healthy gut and a happy gut microbiome. Just remember, you really do have the power to change one step at a time. It’s about progress, not perfection.

Adapted from Gut Health: Nourish to Flourish by Louise Jones, Food for Thought Cookery School. Photographs of Louise: Chloe Palmer Photography. For more information, visit or follow @fftcookeryschool

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