Beyond the plate: empower your gut health through non-diet approaches

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By The Gut Health Doctor Team

Dr Megan Rossi in a lab looking through a microscope

As you head into 2024, are you thinking about positive changes you’d like to make, including ways to improve your gut health? 

Often when people plan to improve their gut health, they focus just on what’s on their plate. For example hitting 30 plant points, prioritising home-cooked food and getting their fill of fibre. 

While these are all important ways to support your gut microbiome, there are many other factors to consider when it comes to improving your gut health that you might not even know about… and I’m not referring to just the power of deep breathing, daily movement and a good night’s sleep.

So, in the spirit of a fresh year and fresh perspectives, here are some other fascinating ways that your environment can shape your gut health and how we can all embrace this for a community of happy guts in 2024! 

Your microbi-home

Family all together at home

Did you know that your microbiome doesn’t just reflect your own diet and health, but those around you too? As you start in life, your mother tends to provide most of your gut microbiome, especially if delivered vaginally and/or breastfed. In fact, children up to 3 years old, who live with their biological mother, have been shown to share over 30% of gut bacteria with them! Interestingly, around half of this shared microbiome continues into adulthood with around 15% shared in your thirties. 

And new research has uncovered it’s not just your family but your housemates, partners, pets – even those living in the same village — that help shape your microbiome. 

Following the COVID-19 pandemic, most people are acutely aware of how easily pathogens (aka ‘bad’ microbes) can pass between people. So perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised that the same principle applies with beneficial microbes too. Indeed, it’s worth reflecting on the fact that you can have a positive effect on those you love by sharing your ‘good’ microbes. That means that the more you work on gut health strategies like your plant point goals, the more diverse a community of microbes you can create for others.

Changing tastes

Child eating food

Did you know your taste buds are constantly adapting and this started when you were the size of a raspberry in your mother’s womb? One study from 2022 tested foetuses’ facial reactions using 4D ultrasounds after their mums ate carrots, kale or a placebo, and found the foetuses’ showed more ‘happy’ faces when exposed to the carrot flavour (via the amniotic fluid) and more ‘sad’ faces when experiencing the kale flavour. What’s more, babies tend to be more accepting of foods such as garlic if their mums ate them during pregnancy.

But don’t worry if you didn’t have the best nutritional start in life. The development of taste buds doesn’t end there — they regenerate every ten or so days and can be re-trained at any age. A study from Belgium found that just four weeks of eating more fibre-rich veg reduced people’s desire for ultra processed sweet, salty and fatty foods — and they reported enjoying veg more. 

So if you’ve been struggling to hit your plant points because you’re not too keen on the flavours, why not focus on retraining your taste buds this year? Start by sneaking fruit and veg into your usual meals – such as frozen cauliflower in a smoothie (trust me: you won’t detect it and it’ll make it deliciously creamy) or throwing some roasted veg onto your Friday night pizza. In time, your oral microbiota (that is the millions of microbes that live in your mouth) will diversify, adjust and create different aromas, helping you to actually enjoy a plethora of plant points in 2024.

Sharing is caring

Family sharing a meal

Although it can be hard to balance everyone’s schedules, studies show that friends and families who eat together are generally happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who always eat separately.

Most notably for families, encouraging teens to eat with you could have a noteworthy impact on academic performance. Indeed a 2022 study including 40,000 teenagers found that those who ate with their parents reported doing better at school. 

So whether you take it in turns to cook, or explore new recipes as a household, why not embrace a sense of community when it comes to your diet this year?

Stress less

Person stressed out

There’s also the stress conundrum: stress negatively affects both your gut and broader health, which in turn can make us more stressed and less likely to implement healthy habits. In fact a study published in Nature found that a calm brain, with less neurological activity, was linked with longevity and cognitive preservation. The research highlighted that having times in your day when your brain slows down, like mindfulness or simply being in the moment, may be as important for brain health and longevity as activity and exercise. 

As you may have experienced yourself, reducing stress also improves digestive symptoms, thanks to the gut-brain axis. In fact studies show that targeting an overactive brain can be just as effective as medical diets in the management of IBS.

There are lots of cheap and effective ways to help our brain calm down. Practising 10 minutes of mindfulness, going ‘forest bathing’ in the woods or even just having a cuddle! You see the physical sensation of touch has been shown to release oxytocin, which eases distress and calms the fight-or-flight system i.e. stress system, in our body. Which one might you prioritise this month?

Takeaway

Image showing ways to keep boost your immune health

What does all this mean for your gut health journey in 2024?  There’s many more ways to support and enhance your gut health than just doing a menu makeover. So rather than fixating just on food, why not embrace this new science and understanding of additional strategies by which you, and those around you, can shape your microbiome. 

And of course, there’s many ways The Gut Health Doctor can support you this year:

  • Every month we share free recipe to help you reach those plant points and eat across the Super Six
  • If you’re looking to be inspired and empowered with the science, we also publish new science-backed blogs every month
  • If you need more personalised support with a health symptom, need or goal, then you can book in with one of our specialist dietitians at The Gut Health Clinic 
  • If your company is looking to improve their employees (gut) health we offer various workplace wellbeing services from workshops and canteen takeovers to pop-up clinics
  • Keep an eye out for our Masterclasses, including our recent Bloating Masterclass — these take a deep dive into all the latest science-backed strategies that not only help you take control of various symptoms and issues, but prioritise your wider health and happiness

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