Gut health is the latest wellbeing buzzword - and for good reason. Our gut can affect everything from our energy levels to our mood, and even how often we catch those pesky winter bugs.
Knowing how to care for your gut can be confusing though. A quick Google search for 'gut health' returns nearly 200,000 results. Step inside any health store and you'll find row upon row of supplements and so-called 'superfoods' claiming to support good digestive health. No wonder most of us are baffled by what the gut does – and how to look after it.
Luckily dietitian Karen Inge, who is also a nutritional advisor to Jalna Dairy Foods, is on hand to cut through the health jargon and share the things we really need to know. Clue: loving your gut is simpler (and less expensive) than you think...
Just like everything in life, good gut health is all about balance.
"Our 'gut microbiome' is made up of the trillions of microorganisms that live in our intestinal tract," Karen says.
"These microorganisms, mainly comprising bacteria, are critical to our health and wellbeing. There are both beneficial and harmful gut bacteria, and it is vital that these bacteria co-exist in harmony for us to have a well-functioning gut."
The key to keeping this little community happy is nourishing it with plenty of water and gut-friendly foods.
Karen has two daily essentials for a happy gut: fermented foods like yoghourt, sourdough bread, kimchi or kombucha and a good probiotic that survives digestion (most don't).
She recommends Jalna's new Pot Set Lactose Free Yoghourt. With the same thick and creamy texture of regular yoghourt (and two delicious flavours: natural and vanilla) without the lactose, it has the added benefit of Jalna's aBc probiotics along with two Synbio100 probiotic strains. These are scientifically-proven to reduce bloating, improve digestion and boost the number of beneficial probiotic bacteria in the gut.
Everyone knows fast food and alcohol aren't great for your waistline, but they can also play havoc with your gut.
"Many processed foods lack fibre and are low in nutrients," Karen explains. "They don't help nourish your microbiome and may actually upset the balance between good and bad bacteria. Some additives such as certain emulsifiers added to processed foods may also cause inflammation in the gut." All Jalna yoghourts are made the traditional pot set way which means they're free from thickeners, emulsifiers, artificial sweeteners, preservatives, gelatine and colours.
Karen says alcohol can also upset the balance of healthy gut bacteria, and while there's no need to cut out that glass of wine completely, binge drinking can leave your gut feeling as sore as your head the next morning.
"Diet is the most effective way to improve our gut microbiome, and changes can occur remarkably quickly," Karen explains.
She recommends "eating the widest range of foods possible" especially those high in fibre and resistant starch. Think roasted potatoes, pasta and rice cooked then cooled, green bananas, cashew nuts, raspberries and oats. Whole foods like green leafy veggies and wholegrain breads and cereals are good for the gut too.
"Generally speaking, your gut bacteria respond well to fibre, and not so well to sugar," she says.
Tempted to try that new carb-cutting diet plan? Karen says you should ask yourself why first.
"Any diet that cuts out carbs and promotes large amounts of red meat like the Paleo Diet is detrimental to the gut microbiome," Karen explains. "That goes for the Keto Diet as well.
"With all that we know now about the importance of the gut microbiome to our health, you really need to think before cutting out any major food group."
More and more studies show a link between an unhappy gut and an unhappy mind.
"It's important to have diversity of good bacteria in our gut to help not only our gut function properly, but also to help with our immune function and emotional state in terms of reducing anxiety and improving our mood," Karen says.
Adding more wholegrains, fruits, nuts, veggies,and probiotic foods like Jalna's Pot Set Lactose Free Yoghourt, to our plates, while limiting fatty, sugary processed foods can make all the difference to how we feel.
Brought to you by Jalna