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Gut health: how to balance your friendly bacteria

Your digestive system, aka ‘your gut’, is key to your body functioning as it should. A compromised digestive system can lead to low mood, hormone imbalances, poor immunity, flatulence, constipation, diarrhoea and poor skin, to name just a few problems.

Clinical nutritionist Suzie Sawyer shows you why establishing the right balance of friendly bacteria or gut flora is key to good gut health.

WHAT ARE FRIENDLY BACTERIA?

Billions of different types of bacteria inhabit the gut; we just need to ensure a good balance of the right ones, which means those that naturally reside in the gut, namely the Lactobacillus species. These strains are so important that we may need around 85 per cent of Lactobacillus compared to other strains. It’s worth noting that a diet high in sugar and refined foods can often allow unfriendly organisms to proliferate.

WHAT DO THEY LIKE?

Certain foods can encourage friendly bacteria to flourish. Kefir is definitely on trend right now and for good reason. This fermented milk product, made from either sheep, cow or goat’s milk, provides wonderful benefits for the digestive system, helping to ease bloating and IBS symptoms. It can be used like yoghurt, but it’s quite sour so is best eaten with fruit or natural yoghurt.

Yoghurt also contains friendly strains of bacteria, but avoid the fruit varieties, which are high in sugar and low in good bacteria. Other fermented foods that are good for gut bacteria include miso, sauerkraut and tofu.

Try and add more Jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, green tea, onions and garlic to your diet – all gut friendly foods.

WHAT DO THEY NOT LIKE?

Some foods can destroy the good bacteria, leading to wind and other problems. These include caffeine, chocolate, all foods high in sugar and too much red meat, so avoid them if you can or at least reduce your intake. All animal protein, although generally welcomed by the body, can reduce levels of friendly flora.

The answer is to aim for a balance of animal proteins in the diet. Good options include meat, fish, eggs and cheese with vegetable-based proteins such as beans, lentils and whole grains. In addition vegetable protein contains higher amounts of fibre, which also helps to feed good bacteria.

As with everything in life, balance is key. And your gut will certainly let you know you if things aren’t quite right.