Gut health

Confused about your gut health? Don’t know your kefir from your kombucha? The founder of The Food Medic shares her expert advice on digestive health and the foods that make your gut happy

From our mood to our weight, our gut can play a key role in our mental and physical health. But with so much new research, scientific jargon (from microbes to prebiotics) and ‘gut cleansing’ diet fads, it can be difficult to know where to start to look after your digestive system.

We’ve teamed up with Dr Hazel Wallace, founder of The Food Medic blog and author of new cookbook, The Food Medic for Life, to find out exactly what makes your gut happy and which foods can help it to thrive.

Why is it important to keep my gut healthy?

Our gut health is the cornerstone to good health. We have a community of trillions of bacteria in our gut, known as our ‘gut microbiota’, and while we’re conditioned to view bacteria or ‘germs’ as a bad thing, some are beneficial to our wellbeing.

The healthy bacteria in our gut help to stop the growth of disease-causing bacteria. They also produce vitamins and chemicals, help us absorb nutrients and digest fibre. Not only does this lead to good gut health, but to overall health, too. We now know that gut health is linked to our brain function, our immune system, our skin health and even our heart health.

What are fermented foods?

These are foods that have undergone a chemical breakdown by bacteria or yeast species.

Why are they good for my gut – and how do they work?

They are beneficial for your gut health because they contain probiotics. These are live healthy bacteria that occur naturally through this chemical change. However, not all fermented foods are probiotics (beer and wine are fermented foods!).

Which fermented foods would you recommend?

  • Kefir – a fermented milk drink with multiple strains of bacteria and yeast. It’s also rich in vitamins and minerals.
  • Kombucha – a fermented sweet tea with healthy microbes for the gut. It has a fizzy taste. Check the label for added sugars.
  • Kimchi – a fermented Chinese cabbage with a spicy taste. It’s great with scrambled eggs or mixed with rice.
  • Sauerkraut – a traditional German dish of chopped fermented cabbage, which is easy to make at home.
  • Miso – a traditional Japanese paste made from fermented soybeans. Try a little in your salad dressing or in a stir-fry.
  • Tempeh – pressed fermented soybeans, which are a great protein source. Try it in place of tofu in curries.
  • Live yoghurts – yoghurt made with live cultures.
  • Sourdough bread – this contains lactic acid, which makes the gluten in the flour more digestible for your gut than standard loaves.

To shop for these fermented foods, visit

What else can I do to look after my gut?

1. Eat a variety of foods

As a general rule; the more diverse your diet, the more diverse and healthy your gut bacteria.

2. Eat more fibre

Adults should be aiming for 30g of fibre a day (100g serving of oats contains roughly 11g fibre, while the same amount of brown rice contains about 4g fibre). It helps the movement of food through your digestive system.

3. Eat prebiotic-rich foods

Prebiotics are a source of food for probiotics to grow, multiply, survive and thrive in the gut. They essentially act as the fertiliser for our gut garden of microbes. They’re found in foods such as: artichokes, onion, garlic, chicory, asparagus and leeks.

4. Take time to breathe and unwind

Scientific research has proven that the bacteria in our gut affect our brain function, stress levels, and mood. The relationship also goes the other way too, and our stress levels can have a profound effect on our gut microbiome. You might try mindfulness and meditation to helps you unwind or simply going for a 10-minute walk at lunch or in the evening. The benefits of stress management reach far beyond a healthy gut!

How does stress affect my gut?

The gut is an important part of the nervous system; it has its own network of nerves known as the ‘enteric system’, influenced by signals from the brain. One way to understand this is the nausea or butterflies we feel in our stomach when we are anxious or excited about something. Stress can speed up the passage of food and stool through the intestine, which can lead to diarrhoea and decreased absorption of water and important nutrients.

To help reduce feelings of stress, take time over your meals and try to find time to relax every day – whether you do 10 minutes of meditation, go for a walk, run a bath, read a book. Whatever chills you out!

Which recipes would you recommend to help keep my gut healthy?

My miso salmon, black rice and Asian greens is great. The miso paste is packed with gut-loving bacteria and it adds the most amazing, intense flavour to the salmon.

Dr Hazel Wallace

Photo: Ellis Parrinder

Or try my chickpea, carrot and red pepper curry. It’s like a bowl of sunshine with plenty of vibrant veg. It’s also high in fibre, which supports your digestive system.

Dr Hazel Wallace

Confused between myth and fact when it comes to bloating? Check out our dietician’s advice on beating the bloat.

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