The Gut Garden - How to maintain a healthy gut by nurturing and nourishing our inner ecosystem

6 Minute Read

By: Eve Kalinik

Creating and maintaining a healthy gut and flourishing gut microbiome starts with supporting our own ‘ecosystem’. This is why the analogy of a garden really epitomises our gut on many levels.

After all, a healthy garden is well cultivated in that plants and flowers (‘good’ bugs in our gut garden) are given the appropriate nutrients, watered regularly, and as such the garden is vibrant and blooming. In contrast, an unhealthy garden can be overgrown with lots of weeds, (‘bad’ gut bugs) which compromise the healthy plants and flowers to grow.

Just like we wouldn’t plant seeds in our garden without weeding and prepping the soil, we have to think about caring for our gut in a similar way. By practising our own personal ‘horticulture’ we can realise the full potential for our gut garden to positively blossom.

How to create and maintain a healthy gut like a garden

Weeds

Like weeds, if we have an overgrowth of bad bugs, these need to be managed so they don’t compromise the thriving existence of our gut garden. Rather than using hard core herbicides or pesticides which could be compared to antibiotics or anti-fungals, the best way to do this is to focus on building up the strength of our good bugs so that they can dominate. The typical ‘Western diet’ which is generally low in fibre as well as high in fat, sugar and refined carbohydrates is one that can lead to an over proliferation of ‘weeds’. So the first thing is to shift the diet to one that is more conducive to supporting the good bugs favourably and also ‘weeding out’ a lot of the ultra-processed foods that can contribute to an overgrowth of the bad bugs. This includes foods with lots of added chemicals, artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers which contain ingredients you wouldn’t recognise as having in your kitchen cupboard such as most of the shop-bought cookies, cakes, biscuits, breads, doughnuts, sodas, ready-meals etc. Opting for whole foods in the majority will help you to avoid these and more importantly allow more space to include foods that will nourish your gut garden. It is also worth noting that factors that lead to an overgrowth of weeds can come in the form of non-food related factors such as chronic stress and lack of sleep, so it is important to also make a mindful note of addressing these too.

Nourish the Soil

When the soil in our garden is dry and malnourished, there is no way we can successfully attempt to grow any plants. Worse if the ground has been ripped up and is full of rubble as in the case of ‘leaky gut’. We therefore have to consider our gut soil to be the intestinal epithelial barrier which are the cells that line our gut and maintain tight junctions to keep this barrier strong and healthy. Having a healthy gut barrier is an essential part of growth and abundance in our gut garden so we need to make sure that we support this appropriately. In fact, the ingredient in ION* is quite literally soil in the form of humic extract so it helps to provide direct support on a foundational and structural level. Other things we can do to bring extra soil nourishment could be adding in foods that are rich in collagen and/or those rich in vitamin C that promotes the production of collagen since this is important for all connective tissue including the gut barrier. These include organic bone broth, chicken, peppers (all types), broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, strawberries, and kiwis.

Plant the Seeds

Seeding our gut garden comes from eating fermented foods that include sources of bacteria that are beneficial for our gut health. These include ‘live’ natural yogurts, cheese, kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh and kvass to name a few. Furthermore, the process of fermentation helps increase absorption and the amount of certain nutrients in some of these foods which is added bonus for the gut. It can also enhance flavour and texture so not only can we nourish our gut garden we can bring some added delight to our palate too. Including some of these foods regularly can help with this or consider a probiotic supplement – do your research on this first and ensure it has clinical evidence to support its claims.

Feed

Think of dietary fibre as fertiliser that can feed and enrich the thriving existence of the gut microbes in our garden. Generally speaking, and to cultivate a healthier, stronger and heterogenous gut microbiome we should aim to include a wide variety of fibre sources in our diet, ideally 30+ varieties per week which includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains and nuts & seeds. Bringing in myriad colours across all of these foods also brings in polyphenols which further help to support a more diverse and bountiful gut garden. Some of the more potent sources of fibre are called prebiotics. These include foods such as garlic, onions, leeks, oats, rye, spelt, cashews, pistachios and chicory root. So, if you want to give your gut garden a little more fertiliser, then it can be advantageous to include them in the diet.

And…as a final note, like any garden, our gut needs regular care and attention and this is something we will be tending for a lifetime so take some time to address the weeds where needed, nourish the soil, feed it well and replenish with seeds to keep it blooming and blossoming.

If you want a little guidance here’s a few easy meal ideas to help you along the way…

gut healthy foods

Healthy gut meal ideas

Breakfast

  • Overnight oats are easy to prep and a great way to start your day. Add a handful of berries, tablespoon of any nuts or seeds and a spoonful of live natural full fat yogurt. TIP: make up a nut & seed mix in advance which you can use on this dish and many others as it’s a great way to get more diversity into our diet.
  • Sourdough or rye toast with scrambled eggs and wilted spinach. TIP: add spices to your scramble like chilli, turmeric, cumin or paprika to add in some extra polyphenols.

Lunch

  • Tray bake veggies are great as you can make up a bigger batch to last over a few lunches and then just top with a protein like chicken, salmon, mackerel, eggs or halloumi. Aim for at least 4 veggies in your tray bake. TIP: make up an easy tahini, lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil dressing that you can drizzle over and add in extra gut nourishing benefits.
  • Frittatas are also another good time saver as you can save half for the next day. Add in at least 3 plants into this.

Dinner

  • Try adding in at least 1-2 plant-based dishes per week to help meet the 30+ plants quota. Veggie steaks can be a great way to do this.
  • Roasting a whole chicken gives so much bang for buck both nutrition and cost wise. What’s more using the carcass to make your own bone broth is a no brainer. Try to opt for organic and free-range where possible. Pairing this with sweet potato wedges and garlicky greens is one of my favourite ways to serve. And then use the leftovers for a couple of lunches.

References

Tomasello G et al (2016) ‘Nutrition, oxidative stress and intestinal dysbiosis: Influence of diet on gut microbiota in inflammatory bowel diseases’ Biomed Pap Med Fac Univ Palacky Olomouc Czech Repub. 2016 Dec;160(4):461-466. doi: 10.5507/bp.2016.052. Epub 2016 Oct 26. (Online). Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27812084/

Chen et al (2017) ‘Collagen peptides ameliorate intestinal epithelial barrier dysfunction in immunostimulatory Caco-2 cell monolayers via enhancing tight junctions’ Food Funct. 2017 Mar 22;8(3):1144-1151. doi: 10.1039/c6fo01347c. (Online). Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28174772/

Fengfeng et al (2020) ‘Effect of a high-collagen peptide diet on the gut microbiota and short-chain fatty acid metabolism’ Journal of Functional Foods Volume 75, December 2020, 104278doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2020.104278 (Online). Available at https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464620305028

Leeuwendaal NK, Stanton C, O’Toole PW, Beresford TP (2022) ‘Fermented Foods, Health and the Gut Microbiome’ Nutrients. 2022 Apr 6;14(7):1527. doi: 10.3390/nu14071527. (Online). Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35406140/

Makki K, Deehan EC, Walter J, Bäckhe F (2018) ‘The Impact of Dietary Fiber on Gut Microbiota in Host Health and Disease’ Cell Host Microbe. 2018 Jun 13;23(6):705-715. doi: 10.1016/j.chom.2018.05.012. (Online). Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29902436/

Holscher H. (2017) ‘Dietary fiber and prebiotics and the gastrointestinal microbiota’ Gut Microbes. 2017 Mar 4;8(2):172-184. doi: 10.1080/19490976.2017.1290756. Epub 2017 Feb 6. (Online). Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28165863/


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