Happy Gut, Happy Life: Nourishing Foods for a Healthy Digestive System
By Georgie Murphy
Registered Nutritionist, Founder Glow Nutrition. MSc, BSc, Dip.Nut, mBANT, rCNHC, ANutr. https://www.glow-nutrition.co.uk/
The health of our gut and all the bacteria within it (i.e. our microbiome) is critical to our overall health. Research in support of this is only growing, with evidence linking the health of our gut to nearly every system within the body from weight, immune function and mental health. Studies have also revealed that environmental factors including diet actually outweigh genetic influences when it comes to the function and make-up of our gut bacteria. So, looking after our gut through our diet and lifestyle choices matters!
Here I give you a quick guide on how you can add gut-friendly foods to your diet easily.
When it comes to our gut health, the variety of plant foods in our diet is important. Plant foods have so many benefits from providing vitamins, minerals and fibre to specific health-promoting compounds which have anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer benefits. One of the best ways is to try adding more colour to your diet and alternating your food shop week-on-week.
In fact, it has been shown in a large study that individuals who eat more than 30 plant foods a week had a more diverse bacteria within their gut versus those that ate 10 or less. A food counts if it comes from a plant and is minimally processed! Plant foods include all vegetables and fruits, beans and legumes (peas, lentils, tofu), grains (oats, quinoa, buckwheat), nuts and seeds (hemp, chia, flaxseeds) but also olive oil, coffee, teas, herbs and spices!
It’s hard to talk about gut health without talking about probiotic-rich foods and for good reason! Probiotics are a type of beneficial bacteria found in food and supplements. While prebiotics, are a type of carbohydrate which are not digested but provide fuel for the bacteria in the gut.
Historically, we would have consumed lots of probiotics from fresh foods grown in good soil as well as from fermented foods, a common practice to keep food from spoiling. Today, however, our diet quality is a lot poorer and agricultural practices has meant that our foods are lower in probiotics.
Probiotics work to rebalance the bacteria within our gut, pushing out the ‘bad’ bacteria, and support gut and immune function. Foods include kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, miso; variety is key as each contain different strains of bacteria. Prebiotic-rich foods include onions and leeks, garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, pistachios, beans, oats, cooked and cooled starchy plants, such as potatoes and root vegetables.
Polyphenols are one of the most abundant natural compounds found in plants. They are present in fruits, vegetables, beans, herbs and spices, and drinks like tea and coffee. They are what gives foods their distinct colours. Polyphenols have been studied for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, helping to protect the body from numerous disease states.
They have a two-way relationship with our gut microbiome. Polyphenols feed some of the beneficial gut bacteria which increases their population and thus promotes the health of our gut. They have also been shown to have antimicrobial effects against ‘bad’ bacteria, and to be beneficial for immunity and gut inflammation. In return the gut bacteria make polyphenols more available to the body so that we can get their health benefits too.
Some examples of polyphenol-rich foods include teas (e.g. green tea), coffee (ideally organic), extra virgin olive oil, spices, cocoa, berries, beans (e.g. black beans), nuts and seeds (e.g. flaxseeds), vegetables like artichokes, tempeh and tofu.
With so many chemicals present in our world today it’s important to consider what our gut is being exposed to! Recent studies have shown that low levels of consistent exposure to pesticides in our diet can negatively affect our gut bacteria. Research has also shown that exposure to microplastics, now common in our environment and food chain, can change the bacteria within our gut and influence gut inflammation.
Choosing organic and plastic-free products are great ways to try to reduce any damage to our gut bacteria. Pesticides Action Network UK and the Environmental Working Group are great resources to help navigate this.
Ultimately a happy gut is about making small and consistent positive choices in our day where we can. Looking after our gut has never been more important and we now know from the evidence that our gut health is key to our overall and long-term health.
Registered Nutritionist, Founder Glow Nutrition. MSc, BSc, Dip.Nut, mBANT, rCNHC, ANutr
Georgie Murphy is a fully registered, London-based nutritionist known for offering personalized online consultations and tailor-made nutrition plans. With a background in Biomedical Science, she pursued an MSc in Nutrition from King’s College London and a Diploma in Nutritional Therapy from the College of Naturopathic Medicine London. Her journey intertwines scientific research, clinical application of evidence-based protocols, and personal experience. She deeply understands the pressures of modern living and advocates for the transformative power of nutrition and lifestyle changes. Georgie's approach is fueled by her appreciation for natural food and the belief that small, consistent changes can greatly impact health