The term “gut health” has become a huge buzzword in the health and nutrition industry in recent years and for good reason. The health of our guts or digestive systems have been found to affect the health of almost every other body system. Most importantly, gut health seems to directly affect brain health, immune function and hormonal health and because of this poor gut health has widespread implications for disease risk and longevity.
When people think about gut health, most people think about probiotics or fermented foods. Whilst probiotics can definitely play an important role in gut health, there are many other lifestyle factors that affect the health of our guts and that can make us susceptible to diseases over time.
How can diet affect your gut health?
In order to understand how diet and lifestyle can affect our gut health, it’s important to understand a few key components of how our guts work. The gut is lined with billions of bacteria, viruses and fungi. When we think of the word “bacteria” or “virus”, we usually think of illness, however these bacteria and viruses are actually good for us. Their job is to form a wall of defense against bad bacteria or viruses that might come into the gut through the mouth. If bad bacteria or viruses get through these gut walls, they can go into our blood stream and travel to the rest of the body causing infection or illness. When we have lots of good gut bacteria and viruses (also known as probiotics or the gut microbiome) they form a tight defense system which prevents bad bacteria from entering the blood stream and from taking route in the gut. This wall of defense is not the only function that our gut microbiome serves. They also help us to digest and absorb our food, they form compounds in the gut that can take down inflammation and can give energy to our gut cells and they help to regulate our immune systems.
The type of food we eat can influence the amounts and types of probiotics in our guts’ and can therefore influence our immune system, disease risk, inflammation and nutritional status.
The antioxidants and gut health connection
Recent research has found that polyphenols (a type of antioxidant in the diet) can have a major impact on gut health. Foods such as fruits, seeds, vegetables, tea, cocoa and wine are rich in polyphenols. Studies have found that people who eat more of these foods have more of certain healthy gut bacteria which are known to improve the immune system, prevent cancer and help manage inflammatory bowel disease. In addition to this, eating more polyphenol-rich foods can help to prevent heart disease by lowering inflammation and improving good cholesterol levels. One study even found that polyphenols can kill Salmonella and other bad bacteria, meaning that eating more of these foods may offer more protection against these illnesses.
Getting more polyphenols in your diet:
- Make sure to eat your 5-7 servings a day of fruits and vegetables. Polyphenol-rich fruits and veg include berries, apples, plums, artichokes, red onions and spinach.
- Include nuts, seeds and beans in your daily diet. Add some chickpeas, lentils or beans to your salads, stews and soups and snack on a handful of nuts or seeds every day.
- Sip on polyphenol-rich beverages. One way to quantify the antioxidants in food is something called the ORAC value. An ORAC value expresses the ability of a food to fight free radicals in the body. The ORAC value of rooibos tea is 6, Green tea is 11 and red espresso® Rooibos has an ORAC value of 59. The ORAC value of rooibos tea is from a type of antioxidant called Aspalathin which is a polyphenol. red espresso® rooibos contains 4 x more polyphenol antioxidants and has 10 times the ORAC value (free radical fighting abilities) than rooibos tea due to the unique processing methods used and due to its unique production methods and style of preparation which allows for more antioxidants to enter the brew.
red espresso® offers a range of rooibos products from the classic red cappuccino®, to rooibos espresso powder and Nespresso compatible rooibos pods. Sipping on a serving of one of these beverages every day would drastically increase the polyphenol content of your diet and help you to have a healthy gut. In addition, caffeine is known as a gut-irritant and can have a negative effect on gut function so replacing caffeinated beverages with these caffeine-free red espresso® alternatives could help to regulate gut function.
- Enjoy some chocolate: Cocoa is rich in polyphenols so cocoa-rich dark chocolate is a great way to increase the polyphenol content of your diet. Enjoy a block of dark chocolate along with your red espresso® cappuccino to get those polyphenols in for the day.
Other tips for good gut health:
- Eat a diet high in unsaturated plant fats and limit your intake of saturated fats. Unsaturated fats are found in avocadoes, nuts, seeds and olive oil and these fats have been found to increase the amounts of certain healthy bacteria in our guts and to help decrease cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are mostly found in meat, dairy, chicken, butter and coconut and have been found to increase the amount of certain bad bacteria in the gut. These bad bacteria can increase inflammation, cholesterol levels and lead to insulin resistance.
- Eat plenty of plant protein and limit your intake of animal protein. Plant proteins are mainly found in beans, pulses, nuts, seeds and soy products. These types of proteins have been shown to decrease certain bad bacteria in the gut and increase certain good bacteria. These bacterial changes lead to lower inflammation, better immune function and better gut function. Animal proteins found in meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy have been found to have the opposite effect on gut bacteria and can play a role in increasing risk of heart disease and inflammatory bowel disease. These types of proteins should be limited.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners and rather eat natural sugars. Artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-k and sucralose have been found to decrease the amounts of good gut bacteria and increase the amounts of bad gut bacteria. These changes can lead to glucose intolerance. Natural sugars such as glucose, fructose and sucrose have actually been found to have positive effects on our gut bacteria. So the moral of the story is to rather use some honey or coconut sugar in your café-style beverages and avoid artificial sweeteners. Luckily, all red espresso® products are free of artificial sweeteners.
- Eat plenty of fibre and resistant starch. Fibre and resistant starch are found exclusively in plant foods. High fibre plant foods include vegetables, fruits, beans, pulses, grains, nuts and seeds. These foods have one of the most profound effects on general gut health and should be eaten daily for optimal health. The affect of these foods on our gut health can lead to positive changes in immune function, metabolism, weight, cholesterol and inflammation.
- Eat some fermented foods. Fermented foods such as yoghurt, kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha are rich in probiotics and add to the amounts of healthy bacteria in the gut. Eating these foods has been shown to lower cholesterol, inflammation and insulin resistance.
Disclaimer: The information on this blog is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.
Written by Jessica Kotlowitz, Registered Dietitian as a paid partnership with red espresso®
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Jessica Kotlowitz is a Registered Dietitian with a Masters degree in Nutrition (Stell. University). Jessica has a private practice in Cape Town which focuses on plant-based nutrition.
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