As Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said more than 2,000 years ago, ‘All disease begins in the gut’. And modern science is proving it as true today as it was then.
In this blog we outline the importance of gut microbiota and the use of diet to affect them to try to improve health and welfare.
For a detailed exploration of the topic, register for our free, CPD-accredited NutriWebinar. Led by experts Professor Glenn Gibson and Laura Tilt, it will give you both incredible insight into the science and practical tips on how to help balance gut microbiota for real health benefits.
The importance of the gut microbiome
We have more than 1,000 species of bacteria in our gut. And there’s been an increasing realisation among scientists that these can have a profound effect on our health – from Irritable Bowel Syndrome to infections, asthma and inflammatory disease right through to bone health and cognitive function.
This understanding has led researchers to investigate what we can do to affect the microbiota, to be applied to this wide range of health problems. A steady stream of scientific publications over the last 15 years address the topic, alongside research into probiotics and, more recently, prebiotics – which selectively fertilise the ‘good’ bacteria.
Our gut microbiome status changes throughout our lives. We acquire our gut bacteria mostly at birth. Moving through the milk years, there are differences in acquiring bacteria between breast-fed and infant formulae fed babies: human milk.
There is change again at the weaning stage, after which the gut microbiota remains fairly stable. As we get older there is then a decrease in the largely in beneficial bacteria like the bifidobacteria.
The gut microbiota can be susceptible to various challenges: stress, infection, antibiotics and poor diet all amongst the factor coming into play on a daily basis.
How does diet affect our gut microbiome and our health?
Carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids and lipids are all metabolised by microbiomes in different ways, with different outcomes for our health.
Carbohydrate metabolism – especially that of fibre – leads to organic acids, short chain fatty acids, that have shown to be beneficial in the gut. For example:
- Acetate is metabolised by the muscle, kidney, heart and brain
- Propionate, cleared by the liver, is an appetite regulator also said to be involved in cholesterol synthesis
- Butyrate is a fuel and regulates cell growth
Fibre itself can stimulate the growth of good bacteria. It’s been estimated that per 100g fibre fermented, 30g of bacteria is produced.
Metabolism of excess protein, on the other hand, leads to less positive end products:
- Ammonia induces quick cell turnover
- Phenols/indoles may act as co-carcinogens
- Amines are linked to migraine, cancer, schizophrenia
Balancing our gut microbiota
- Increased fibre intake
To help ensure balanced gut microbiota, our diet needs to include enough fibre. As discussed in our recent blog, government recommendations advise 30g per day for adults, representing a 60% increase in intake for most. Laura Tilt provides excellent advice on how this can be achieved in the NutriWebinar.
- Probiotic and prebiotics
Much work has been done into probiotic supplements: live ‘good’ bacteria that bring health benefits, especially lactobacilli and bifido bacteria.
More recently, scientists have found that prebiotics could have an even more profound effect on our health. They work by selectively proliferating beneficial bacteria, which in turn inhibit pathogens. They may also have a more general effect, including dampening inflammatory issues.
Prebiotics are found naturally in human breast milk and in fructans and inulins in vegetables including asparagus, onion, banana and leeks. They can also be taken as supplements, especially in GOS forms.
As our understanding of the link between gut microbiota and our health has grown, researchers have increasingly looked to see where we can have the most impact.
We’re in a position where health and nutrition professionals can advise clients on what they can do to improve their gut health and therefore overall wellbeing. We look forward to our research widening and deepening further to improve our understanding in this vital area.
Get involved in the discussion on social media: @Nutrilicious @NutriWebinar #lifelonglearning #feedingthegut
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We were delighted that a record number of people joined us for last weeks’ Sustainable Diets NutriWebinar. The effect our food choices are having on the environment – and what we can do about it – is clearly a topic that matters to you.
Today, many months of in-depth work on sustainable diets comes to fruition with the launch of the British Dietetic Association’s (BDA’s) One Blue Dot campaign, aiming to ensure that dietary guidance is synonymous with health and sustainable eating.
Putting together the One Blue Dot programme
Throughout 2018, we’ve been part of a working group collating and reviewing the latest evidence from around the world on environmentally sustainable and healthy eating patterns, drilling down to macronutrient level.
Supported by project partner Alpro, the ground-breaking results have been brought together into the new One Blue Dot reference guide and toolkit. It’s aimed at dietitians, health professionals and influencers – and really everyone involved in food provision in some way.
Indispensable reference guide and resources
Launching today at Food Matters Live in London, we hope One Blue Dot will become an essential read, guide and inspiration.
Polls show that where 50% of us are likely to consider dietary changes to reduce the impact on climate change, in reality there are significant barriers to changing behaviour for the majority of people.
One Blue Dot aims to tackle this problem. It provides both the latest evidence and a bank of practical resources, including menu swap suggestions for breakfast, lunch and dinner:
A nine-point plan includes:
- Reductions in red and processed meat to 70g per person per day (also recommended by the World Cancer Research Fund).
- Prioritising plant proteins such as beans, nuts, soya and tofu.
- Consuming fish from sustainable sources.
- Moderating dairy consumption and using fortified alternatives where needed.
- Focussing on wholegrain starchy foods.
- Opting for seasonal, locally sources vegetables/fruit. Avoiding air freighted, pre-packed and prepared vegetables/fruit.
- Reducing overconsumption of high fat, sugar, salt foods.
- Making tap water and unsweetened tea / coffee the choice for healthy hydration.
- Reducing food waste, especially of perishable fruit and veg by choosing tinned/frozen alongside seasonal fresh produce.
Each is covered in depth, from the point of view of both the effect on the planet and nutrition.
Dietitians can help lead the way
As dietitian and working group member Ursula Arens brilliantly sums it up, “Eating healthy is for you; environmentally sustainable eating is for your children and their children.”
And – as the guide itself says – dietitians are ‘perfectly placed’ to communicate national and international guidance to help the public understand what they need to do to improve their own health and that of the plant to help future generation. The toolkit will be a ‘live’ document, with regular updates and extra information as the science develops.
We’d love to hear your thoughts about the topic and the guide!
Members can download the reference guide and tools at https://www.bda.uk.com/onebluedot
For press enquiries, call 0800 048 1714
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The facts are now mounting that our food choices not only impact our health but are also fast depleting the planet’s resources.
Taking into account every stage from production, distribution and delivery through to waste, we see the sizeable impact our food choices have on the environment. What we eat:
- Contributes 20-30% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions
- Is the leading cause of deforestation, biodiversity loss and soil and water pollution
- Accounts for 70% of all human water use
- Is responsible for global inequality: current food production is adequate to meet the needs of the global population of 7 billion, however, 2 billion exceed their needs whilst 800 million suffer hunger
Additionally, 30–50% of all food produced is spoiled or wasted.
If we’re going to save our planet, we need to change the way we eat.
Choosing a sustainable diet
For the first time, the UK government’s most recent Eatwell Guide acknowledged the importance of eating to help sustain the planet, as well as for health.
It was modelled to ensure that all macro and micronutrient needs of people aged 5 and over are met, while the nation’s carbon footprint is reduced by almost one third.
- Supporting our planet
The Eatwell Guide recommends that 80% of food we consume should be of plant origin: the focus is on reducing meat – especially beef – and dairy, which have the most impact on the world’s resources.
– Livestock production is by far the most significant contributor to GHG emissions (methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide) contributing to 14.5% of all GHG emissions.
– Cattle consume 40% of all grains produced. Over one third of arable land is dedicated to growing grains solely for animal feed production.
– Livestock is the main cause for deforestation, biodiversity loss, degradation and water pollution.
- Improving our health
The benefits come not only to the planet but also our health. As we discussed in our blog on the popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets, it is well established that diets higher in plant foods and lower in meat products result in a lower intake of both energy (calories) and saturated fat, while increasing fibre intake.
Those with a plant-based diet suffer significantly less from diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
The barriers to change
With only 1% of the population adhering to the previous (and less plant-based) Eatwell plate, how can we now expect people to adopt a more environmentally-friendly diet?
The British Dietetic Association is committed to bringing sustainable diets to the top of the dietetic agenda. They’ve put together a new toolkit providing both scientific knowledge and the practical tools to empower dietitians and consumers to adopt a diet focussed on sustainability.
The advice follows extensive research into the science of sustainable eating and top barriers and motivators. These were identified as:
- Lack of practical knowledge and resources
- Perceptions that sustainable healthy eating requires more time, more money and taste has to be compromised.
- What’s on offer from retailers, restaurants, take-aways, etc. – with an imbalance toward unhealthy, plant-based foods versus health and affordable plant foods?
- Language needing to be tailored to the audience depending on culture, age group, socio-economic and education status
- Clarity over messaging, for example on fish and processed foods
- The misconception of sustainable only associated with vegetarian/vegan diets, and of them being nutritionally inadequate
Sound familiar? Have you been able to overcome the barriers and use successful motivators to increase your own sustainable eating, or that of a client?
Be first to benefit from the BDA’s Sustainable Diet toolkit
We are giving an exclusive preview of the toolkit along with an overview of the latest science on the upcoming FREE CPD NutriWebinar on Sustainable Diets, 14 November 8 to 9pm.
The toolkit will be formally launched at Food Matters Live on 20 November. Find out more and register now
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Over the past few years, the issue of mental health has been increasingly in the spotlight. An estimated one in six people in the UK suffer from mental health issues. With research showing that food affects your mood as much as it does your physical health, what can we do to help people appreciate the link?– especially in the workplace where employees spend an estimated 1/3 of their lives and may not be able to eat well.
Link between nutrition and mental health
As highlighted in an article in the Guardian, ‘Eating junk food raises risk of depression’, the Journal of Molecular Psychiatry recently published findings from researchers in Britain, Spain and Australia who analysed 41 studies linking diet and depression.
They found that foods that are high in sugar, fat and processed foods cause inflammation not just in the gut but also the whole body, known as ‘systemic inflammation’. This can directly increase the risk for depression.
The findings support the recommendations offered by Public Health England, The Association of UK Dietitians (BDA) and mental health charity MIND, who all offer excellent information and advice about the links between eating well and mental health.
Food for good mood
The BDA outlines the types of foods that can promote better mental health in their ‘Depression and Diet’ fact sheet. Their advice includes:
– Eat regular meals to give your brain a steady supply of glucose
– Get the right balance of fats to keep your brain well nourished
– Choose more wholegrains, fruit and vegetables: They are rich in vitamins and minerals; digest slowly so control glucose supply to your brain and are rich in B vitamins and zinc, which recent evidence show are important in managing depression
– Include some protein at every meal: Protein helps to keep you feel full and therefore can prevent overeating. Tryptophan is also one of the building blocks of protein, which research shows may help with depression.
– Include oily fish: Researchers believe that two to three portions per week can help fight depression
– Drink enough fluid: A healthy brain contains up to 78% water and evidence shows that even slight dehydration may affect your mood. It’s important to drink 6-8 glasses of non-caffeinated drinks per day
MIND’s information support and ‘How to manage your mood with food’ short video also reminds us to try to avoid foods which make your blood sugar rise and fall rapidly, such as sweets, biscuits, sugary drinks and alcohol.
Positive action in the workplace
Despite the evidence, as Gillian Killiner RD points out in her blog The role of nutrition on mental health, “… diet still often remains a last resort when it comes to addressing ways to help improve or prevent the onset of mental health issues.”
The upcoming This Can Happen conference sets out to help companies who recognise that staff need support to deal with mental health issues affecting them, their colleagues or their families.
It was founded by Jonny Benjamin MBE and Neil Leybourn, the two strangers featured in Channel 4’s ‘Strangers on the bridge’ and passionate mental health campaigners after Neil talked Jonny out of taking his own life.
We’re attending to speak to attendees about helping staff to improve their diet alongside other ways to improve mental health. We’re interested to find out what – if anything – they do already, and to encourage sharing of best practice.
Do companies have policies and guidelines for healthy eating?
Do they provide healthy food and drinks to their staff?
Does the company environment nudge their employees towards eating well, or do they in fact nudge them towards an unhealthy way of eating?
Is nutrition included in any mental health advice they may provide? How can we help to make sure it is?
As mental health becomes tackled in an evermore-thorough way, we’re keen to explore these questions and ensure that wherever possible eating and drinking well are considered key components when addressing the topic.
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The most recent government guidelines on fibre intake recommend 30g per day for adults. Levels are currently at just 20g per day for adult men and 17.1g per day for women – that’s an average 68% increase in intake needed to meet recommendations.
And it’s not just adults: there’s a significant disparity between recommended and actual fibre intake across all age groups.
So why is fibre so important? And what can we do to help people meet the recommended intake levels?
Here’s a quick overview. To explore the topic in more detail, join our upcoming Fibre NutriWebinar, on Wednesday 7 November.
The benefits of fibre
Dietary fibre has long been recognised for its health benefits. But it’s only in recent years that our understanding and appreciation of it has significantly progressed.
Fibre’s health effects mainly result from two key factors – its physical properties (eg stool bulking, viscosity, binding ability) and its effect on the gut microbiota and luminal environment.
Amongst its many beneficial properties, clinical trials have proven that fibre:
- Decreases blood pressure
- Increases satiation
- Decreases glucose absorption
- Increases bacterial a faecal mass (commonly associated with health benefits including reduced risk of colon cancer)
- Exerts benefits through gut microbiota
Where are we getting our fibre from?
The main sources of fibre in the UK are cereals, vegetable and potatoes, contributing to 70% of total intake.
Interestingly, white bread and potato products prepared with fat (eg chips and crisps) are significant contributors. This is despite the fact that they have comparatively low fibre content, showing that consumption is high.
One of our challenges is to educate the public on healthier fibre sources – fruit, vegetables, whole grains and pulses, rather than broad recommendations on increasing cereals.
Understanding and helping consumers
We know that despite the convincing body of evidence for the role of dietary fibre in many chronic conditions, translating and achieving fibre recommendations in practice can be challenging.
Understanding the key barriers faced by the public and putting forward strategies to overcome these is key to facilitating better health for all.
Find out more about the FREE Fibre NutriWebinar with Dr Megan Rossi, RD and register now.
It’s one of our ongoing NutriWebinar series examining key nutrition topics with experts in the field.
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