From guts to glory


It’s time to remember the basics and use science to try to debunk some of the trendy diet myths, says expert Karen Geary

In the journey towards our very best health, we now know our gut plays a pivotal role, acting as the cornerstone of our well-being.
Something cropping up a lot – both with my own clients and with GPs I’ve spoken to – are questions caused by certain national brands. Ad campaigns with enormous marketing budgets are seriously muddying the health waters. They’re effectively a data-gathering tool, but they seem to be causing a lot of confusion and misunderstanding, some of it potentially harmful.
In the midst of these popular trends, it might be time to return to some basic information and understanding, based on science.

Know the gut
The gut, often dubbed the “second brain,” encompasses the entire digestive system from mouth to anus. It serves as the habitat for trillions of bacteria, fungi, and microbes. Collectively these are known as the microbiome. This intricate ecosystem manages vital functions ranging from digestion to the immune system and even mental health.
Notably, people changing their diet often report improvements in both gut and immune system-related symptoms, emphasising the intricate connection between nutrition and health.
Remarkably, the gut microbiome contains 150 times more genes than the human genome itself, highlighting its functional complexity. Its composition continually adapts to various factors including diet, exercise, sleep patterns and stress levels. Research indicates that different diets distinctly shape the gut microbiome, which, in turn, influences not only the intestinal function but also the body’s immune response.

The fibre has it
Fibre is the linchpin of gut health – yet it remains overlooked in modern diets, particularly amid the prevalence of ultra-processed foods in western diets. The shortfall in fibre intake poses significant health risks, including increased susceptibility to cancer and digestive ailments.
The human body ideally needs 30g of fibre a day – think seven heaped teacups of plants. It’s an amount that the majority of the population gets nowhere near.
Colorectal cancer is among the most common cancers worldwide and it is closely connected to dietary habits. Diets which are lacking in fibre and abundant in processed foods correlate with an increase in colorectal cancer risk.
Foods rich in fibre, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, provide essential nutrients while promoting regular bowel movements and detoxification, brilliant for digestive wellness.Natural probiotics and prebiotics
In tandem with fibre, integrating natural pro- and prebiotics into our diet nurtures a thriving gut microbiome. Probiotics – live microorganisms with health-enhancing properties – abound in foods like yogurt, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and miso. They foster diversity in the gut’s microbiome and bolster digestion and immunity.
Prebiotics – non-digestible fibres that fuel that probiotic growth – are abundant in apples, bananas, garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus and Jerusalem artichokes. These foods fortify and feed existing beneficial bacteria, nurturing a resilient microbiome and overall health.

Other things to think about
Beyond fibre and probiotics, several other factors influence gut health:
Hydration: adequate water intake (roughly two to three litres per day) facilitates proper digestion, nutrient absorption and bowel emptying, promoting good gut health.
Stress management: chronic stress disrupts the gut microbial balance. If you’re feeling the effects, try stress-reduction practices like mindfulness, meditation and exercise.
Antibiotics: these take out the good as well as the bad bacteria, and it can take time to rebuild the microbiome after a course (Karen’s article in the BV on ‘what to eat after taking antibiotics’ is a permanent hit on the website)

Your gut health checklist
While everyone’s dietary needs vary, sticking to some basic principles will create a diverse and robust gut microbiome:
Hydrate – two to three litres of water a day.
Embrace plant-based diversity – aim for seven servings (a serving is roughly one heaped teacup) of fruits and vegetables a day, including prebiotic fibre sources. Frozen is fine and often cost-effective. Freeze any leftover fruit and veg and add it to smoothies.
Eat by plate – half of the contents on every plate should consist of plants.
Choose colourful, varied foods for the widest range of goodness, remembering herbs and spices all add nutrients.
Opt for wholefoods over processed alternatives.
Experiment with probiotic foods to identify which ones you like – and try to have some each day. Build up your tolerance slowly!
Enjoy legumes and whole grains – and again build up slowly as they can cause bloating in some cases.
Gut-friendly good fats such as olive oil, avocado and butter are anti-inflammatory and gut supportive. Eat your nuts and seeds unroasted and unsweetened/unsalted. Tinned fish such as mackerel and sardines are also fabulous sources of omega 3.
Limit your intake of inflammatory substances like sugar, fried foods and alcohol.
Don’t forget your protein – animal or vegetable. Protein is a key requirement in supporting immune health.
By prioritising fibre-rich foods, natural probiotics, and mindful habits, it isn’t difficult to build a resilient microbiome, safeguarding against gastrointestinal ailments and promoting vitality. Remember, your gut health is not just about digestion—it’s fundamental to your overall well-being and longevity.

Ask Me Anything
Next month I’ll be running an ‘Ask Me Anything’ Q&A. Please email any questions to me at or leave me a message on my Facebook page.


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