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Gut health focus

Lisa and Alana MacFarlane, founders of The Gut Stuff, and their team of experts give us an insight into the workings of the gut and how to keep yours healthy

Your gut is the gateway between your insides and the outside world. It starts at your mouth and ends at your anus. Along the way, it is supported by some big player organs: your liver, stomach, gallbladder and pancreas. Let’s not forget that your gut houses a whole community of microbes, including bacteria, viruses, parasites and yeasts – say hello to your gut microbiota (or gut microbes). In your lifetime, around 60 tonnes of food will pass through your gut. Your gut, alongside your microbes, has a huge role to play in keeping you healthy.

Gut microbiota explained

Your microbiota is a bit like a tropical jungle with loads of different species living and working in harmony. Think of the different species as having different job titles – they all do different things and science thinks that a diverse community of these microbes is fundamental to health. As we are all unique, different species will work better for some people but not others – it’s personal.

Why gut health is important

Your gut and its community of microbes has many functions, but the key ones are:

Gut health and lockdown

A lot of us are going to continue to spend more time at home than ever before due to the Covid-19 pandemic and this is set to continue. This is having an impact on our guts.


We’ve certainly noticed we’ve become a bit lax in how we eat, which is as important as what we eat. If you are finding yourself staring at the TV or your screen while shovelling down dinner without a second thought, this might be contributing to gut symptoms. Cooking fatigue is real (just like Zoom fatigue) but opting for processed foods and takeaway options may be disrupting that delicate community of microbes in your gut.

Mental health

The World Health Organization has stated that “In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety.” Your gut and brain are connected. Stress and anxiety can negatively affect sleep, appetite and food choices, your gut microbes and how your gut physically works.


Is your gut affecting your sleep or is your sleep affecting your gut? It’s a two-way street. Poor sleep has the power to negatively impact the effectiveness and function of our gut microbes and our gut microbes can disrupt the production and conversion of the neurotransmitters needed to help us have a good night’s sleep. Watching the news late at night, heightened emotions and irregular sleeping patterns can negatively affect your gut.


Being at home more makes it easy to slip into a routine where you barely move all day or maybe you are working out too hard. Noticing how much you are moving (or not) can be really helpful to spot patterns in how you are feeling. Exercise isn’t just good for your body and mind but your gut microbes too. It is one of the independent factors that can affect your gut microbes and how well your gut works – for better and for worse (if you work out too hard without enough rest). Your gut bugs like you to be moving and studies have shown that exercise increases the populations of beneficial bacteria in your gastrointestinal tract by up to 40 per cent. It increases microbial diversity and the production of short chain fatty acids (gut fuel). Aside from your microbes, exercise also helps with keeping your gut moving.

Easy tips to support your gut through diet

Up your polyphenols: Polyphenols are protective compounds found in plants. They are typically found in higher quantities in brightly coloured vegetables. Your gut microbes convert polyphenols from plants into something your body can use. They have antioxidant properties and act as mini cheerleaders for your microbes, helping them to perform at their best. Food sources include brightly coloured vegetables, fruit, tea, coffee, dark chocolate, legumes and olive oil.

Fibre: Did you know you need 30g of fibre per day? Most of us aren’t getting nearly enough. But what is it? Fibre is the unsung hero of the food world. Dietary fibre (or roughage as your relatives may have called it) is the component of plant-based foods that cannot be digested. Think of fibre as the food for your gut bugs; your gut bugs ferment this and produce more food for the cells in your gut. Fibre also helps increase the bulk and softness of your poo, which helps keeps you regular, which we all know is super important. Load up on veggies and fruits in their whole forms, include skins where edible, include wholegrains, nuts, seeds and legumes.

Limit processed foods: To put it simply, they can seriously impact the balance of your gut bugs, making your gut a more favourable environment for those less helpful gut bugs.

Variety: You have trillions of bacteria (over 1,000 different species!) in your gut and they all thrive on different foods, so variety really is key. Research has show that those who ate 30+ different plant-based foods a week had a more diverse mix of gut microbes than those who ate less than 10. Diversity = a happier, healthier gut. Aim to get at least 30 different plant-based foods in your diet a week.

Alcohol: Not only can alcohol increase stress on the body and mind, too much alcohol can have a negative impact on your gut – not only while you drink but also due to your food choices afterwards (hello late night burger and fries!) Get to know your units and be mindful about how much you are drinking.

Lifestyle tips to support the gut

De-stress: What works for you will be different from someone else, so focus on what helps you to relax, whether that’s a yoga class, a walk or even some mindfulness. Do something that helps you get away from the stress of daily life.

Avoid eating when stressed: Don’t eat on the go. Sit down without distractions (like your phone) and really focus on the food in front of you. When was the last time you took a deep breath to fill up your lungs? Try taking three deep breaths before you eat to promote a ‘rest and digest’ state.

Chew, chew and chew again: Do you chew enough? What happens in your mouth is a fundamental part of digestion. Chewing mechanically breaks down your food into smaller pieces and the time you spend chewing allows the digestive enzymes in your mouth to further break down your food. You need to chew your food 20–30 times before you swallow to make sure it is properly broken down to make less work for your gut and your gut bugs.

Gut moving:

Exercise isn’t just good for your body and mind but your gut microbes too. Exercise is one of the independent factors that can affect your gut microbes and how well your gut works – for better and for worse. Try not to go too hard (or too little) and make sure you get enough rest.

Keep a diary to understand why you feel stressed: It could be working out too hard, not getting enough sleep or worrying about work or family. We are all unique but do what you can to get to know yourself better and work on how you manage that stress.

Lisa and Alana MacFarlane are identical twins and the founders of the wellness platform The Gut Stuff. This year, The Gut Stuff is launching The Gut Stuff All in One Fermentation Kits, The Gut Stuff Book, Gut Planning Kit and ‘Gut Started’ Gift Boxes, with a full product range in the pipeline for 2021. For the latest in easily digestible information, tips, tools, research, recipes and even a gut shop, has something to empower better gut health in everyone, no matter where you are on your gut journey.

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