5 tips to helping you and your family eat your way to a healthier, happier gut
Looking after your own gut health can be daunting, but can be all the more difficult when you have to factor in the rest of the family. Here are 5 tips from me on eating your way to a happier, healthier gut.
1. Eat more veg, and don’t peel them!
You have probably heard this before, most likely from your own parents. But yes, eating more veg provides not only a range of nutrients that you can’t get anywhere else, but veg are also a great source of fibre. Gut bacteria love and need fibre to carry on doing their job, so a diet rich in veg is key to a happy, healthy gut. Many veg, like carrots, beetroot and potatoes don’t need to be peeled before you eat or cook them–all they need is a good wash, particularly if they are organic. That goes for fruit apples and pears too. So, upping your veg intake and eating them with the skins saves time and feeds your gut bacteria!
2. Take out refined sugar and cut down on the starchy carbs
A lot of foods now are geared towards convenience, and convenience is often crucial to busy family life; however, many of these convenience foods are processed, laden with sugar, sodium, preservatives and are distinctively beige. Many of these beige foods are targeted at children and have become staples in many households, particularly when time is tight. But many parents will attest, a child fuelled on sugars and starchy stuff can be moody, lacking in concentration largely due to blood sugar imbalance. These foods can also damage the gut lining, which impacts your gut’s ability to house and grow beneficial bacteria. Taking out refined sugars and carbs can be a challenge, particularly when you’re short on time and when there is seemingly no end to the children’s parties (aka Sugarfests). So, start at home by swapping out refined sugars for natural ones, and ones that contain, you guessed it–fibre. Think of replacing sugar with fruit, honey or maple syrup, raw cane sugar or coconut sugar, and of course using these in moderation. Also read your food labels and try to buy and eat more natural, preservative-free foods. And last, which leads on to my next tip, swap your simple carbs for complex carbs, like wholegrains. A healthy gut lining makes a happy home for our probiotic pals.
3. Eat more wholegrains
Several nutritional studies suggest that swapping refined grains for wholegrains has an impact on the variety and function of gut microbes. Wholegrains appear to help keep balance between inflammatory and non-inflammatory bacteria, they also help the bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids, which are an important food source for the bacteria in your colon and also contribute to your immune and metabolic health. But what does that all mean? It largely comes back to fibre. Wholegrains are full of fibre (soluble and insoluble) and your gut microbes use and ferment fibre to replicate, and this process creates a host of beneficial nutrients. Making the wholegrain swap doesn’t have to be expensive or labour-intensive. Start by making changes to your pasta, breads and cereals. Pasta is a staple in many households, it is easy, delicious and a sure win with most children. Try swapping your usual white pasta for a wholegrain variety like wholewheat, spelt, buckwheat or brown rice. Opt for wholegrain bread containing grains like rye, spelt, wheat and/or other pseudo-grains like buckwheat, teff and quinoa– and make sure your bread doesn’t contain lots of sugar and preservatives, which can particularly be an issue with store-bought gluten-free bread. As for cereals, oats, buckwheat groats and puffed cereals like brown rice, quinoa and spelt make gut-friendlier options. With cereals again, the challenge is avoiding additives and sugars. A fun way to ensure a more balanced breakfast cereal is to make your own. My kids enjoy making their own breakfast blends using whole grains with nuts, seeds, coconut chips, dried fruit, cacao nibs and spices– whatever takes their fancy, toasted with a bit of coconut oil.
4. Eat a varied diet
In my kids cookery classes we talk about eating a rainbow. And this is just a simpler way of saying it is important to eat a variety of different and different colour foods. Variety is key to supporting diverse gut flora. There are trillions of bacteria of different varieties living in your gut. These different types of bacteria flourish when they have a range of different food sources. Think of your gut like your garden, the flower, bushes, insects, trees and birds require some of the same things, but also different things to grow. So, keep your and your family’s ‘gut garden’ growing and flourishing by eating a varied diet of fruit, veg, pulses, legumes, nuts & seeds, healthy fats and complex carbs. Translating that to family meal-times can require a bit of inventiveness, but doesn’t have to be difficult. Some of our favourite ‘rainbow’ meals include make your own tacos to my ‘chuck it all in’ lentil Bolognese or sushi. And getting the kids to count up and keep track of the different colours they’ve eaten can spur them on to embracing a more varied diet.
5. Add fermented foods into your daily diet
Adding fermented foods to your diet is a guaranteed way to ensure you and your family are getting a good dose of probiotics, aka good bacteria. But let’s be honest you won’t convince many kids to munch on sauerkraut, especially if they’ve never eaten it before. But they are several fermented foods that you can incorporate regularly to improve gut health that the whole family can enjoy. I get asked often ‘what probiotic foods can I give to my children?’ My answer is all of them, but the key is to start with small amounts and start with flavours that their palate will recognise. Things like live natural yogurt, milk kefir (coconut if you don’t have dairy), probiotic lemonade, water kefir fermented jams or compotes and even salsa work well. These can be enjoyed on their own or mixed into milkshakes, smoothies or work as toppings for soaked oats, porridge or even on toast. Serve up the salsa as a side or mixed in with mashed avocado. The ‘fizzy’ drinks feel like a treat without the sugar and nasties. Not to mention they make great cocktail mixers for us adults. And get the kids involved in making them. The process is fascinating and quite science-y, which many kids will enjoy. So getting everyone to enjoy fermented foods means starting small, having them often and starting with things that won’t completely shock their taste buds. Eventually you can build up to things like sauerkraut and try putting it into salad or sandwiches to make the taste less obvious if you’re worried about the taste putting them off. But once the taste is recognisable feel free to try anything!