Gut Health by Kale Brock

Written by Jo Ann Prior


1: Start with whole foods 

Across the board, all our experts recommended a whole foods diet – that is non processed food, from a variety of sources including meat, some grains (gluten free was the general consensus), lots of vegetables and fruits, healthy fats and legumes (think Mediterranean style diet, which also happens to improve depressive symptoms) – as a place to start from. In that phase where you’re not really ‘detoxing or healing’ but at the same time you want to look after yourself? This is the best place to start. The science is consistent on this, a whole foods diet leads to a healthier gut and microbiome.


2: Don’t be afraid of carbohydrates, especially starches

In the days of low carb high fat most starches are being thrown out the window with such alacrity that food manufacturers are modifying labels as a result. Most of the experts I interviewed agreed that many carbohydrates can be detrimental to gut health, but the caveat to this was that certain carbohydrates also happen to be the healthiest foods for the gut. Gluten containing grains were generally frowned upon and many quoted the work of Professor Alessio Fasano of Harvard Medical School (gluten research guy) however there were some arguments that, when prepared properly/traditionally, gluten may not be so bad. In fact Cyndi O’meara pointed out that the potential problem could actually lie in the herbicides we spray onto the gluten containing grains, not the grains themselves.

The CSIRO’s work on resistant starch was also quoted frequently, although with heavy emphasis on encouraging people to become in tune with their bodies so that if/when they eat these resistant starch containing foods (bananas, cashews, cooked and cooled rice or pasta) they can monitor their reactions to them as positive or negative.

The general consensus was that most of your carbohydrates should come from an abundance of vegetables and fruits (in that order) – loads of colourful, organic if possible, plant foods which literally feed the microbes living inside the gastrointestinal tract. Then, if your digestion is great and you’ve no gut health issues, some rice, quinoa, and maybe even some good ol’ sourdough can actually do some good work in the digestive tract as well, working alongside your wonderful probiotic microbes.

Dr Margie Smith, molecular geneticist who specialises in microbiome testing, shared that when you skew the diet in any way you skew the microbiome, citing once example where someone eating a high fat diet actually had a reduction in microbiome diversity.


3: Take probiotics* on an on-going basis

This one sounds pretty obvious, right? If it’s our bacteria who contribute so much to our health outcomes, it would seem logical to add in a few extra on top of what we already have. The key discussion point throughout the summit, though, was are fermented foods or probiotic supplements better?

Most seemed to agree that it depended on the stage of healing an individual was in. For example, often in the early stages of gut healing (wild) fermented foods could actually cause more disruption than benefit to the host, and it was important to ‘heal and seal’ the gut lining first as Jo Whitton put it. Probiotics then become an essential part of the healing process and for the reestablishment of a healthy microbiome. But as Helen Padarin says, in a capsule there might be 7 different strains of microbes, but there are probably thousands of microbes we haven’t even identified yet within the gastrointestinal tract. Dr Margie Smith pointed out that when you expand one type of microbe, you generally contract another – so potentially by taking only a small portion of the gut microbiome as supplementary probiotics we could, theoretically be impacting the microbiome in ways we do not understand.

John Ellerman, microbiologist, takes a different route and says the best thing we can do is to re-create an optimal gastrointestinal environment by taking high doses of select strains of probiotics.

Regardless, though, ongoing probiotic supplementation, through fermented foods or probiotic supplements was a key action point for gut health warriors.


 4: Be honest and listen to your body 

Overall, almost every single health expert I’ve ever interviewed has said this. Taking the advice of qualified health practitioners should still always pass your inner nutritionist’s approval. All our experts emphasised that whatever you do in the home, whatever you put in your mouth, will have a tangible impact on the body and it is up to you, the consumer, to be honest with yourself about the results you’re getting, and to modify your actions accordingly.

There are always logical boundaries to work within when it comes to health (i.e. eat whole foods – no-one’s thriving off a diet of Mars Bars) however it’s that remaining area, that 20% in Helen Padarin’s words, where the tinkering and the adjusting needs to take place. You can do some testing for this, you can and certainly sometimes should work with a practitioner to help you throughout the process, however ultimately you have to become attuned to your bodies signals. 


 5: Food is just one factor of the gut health equation

It was super interesting to find that upon being asked “what factors are contributing to our poor gut health?” all experts had much more to say than just the nasty foods. 

All listed antibiotics as a hugely important and alarming factor – the frivolous misuse of this class of drug over the past 80 years has probably caused irrevocable damage, agricultural chemicals such as Glyphosphate was a very heavy discussion point especially with the passionate Cyndi O’meara, but then we got into the nitty gritties with guys like Dr Damian Kristof and Dr Andrea Huddleston. These guys mentioned stress, in fact I think everybody mentioned stress – emotional, physical and chemical stress all seem to play a part in the gut health equation.

This last point emphasised that a holistic approach is the best approach when it comes to cleaning up the gut. If getting onto a GAPS diet or my Gut Healing Protocol causes anxiety and stress, then it’ll be extremely difficult to heal. Other factors mentioned were our social setting when we eat, the chemicals in our home and the water we drink.

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