Your gut might spend a decent chunk of its time digesting the food you eat but the reality is, its role in your day-to-day life is much more complex than that. 

For one thing, something called the enteric nervous system, also known as the body’s ‘second brain’, lives in your gut.  Intrigued? Find out what it means for your health, and how to look after your gut. 

Why does gut health matter so much?

In a nutshell, your gut health can affect everything from how well you cope with stress, to your mood and even how easily you lose weight. 

How? It turns out the second brain that lives in your gut contains hundreds of millions of neurons and around 25 different neurotransmitters.  In fact it’s thought that 95 per cent of the body’s supply of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that contributes to happiness, is manufactured by the gut rather than the brain. 

It’s long been known that the brain can send signals to the gut, which is why stress and other emotions can often affect digestive health. However, it’s a two-way street: your gut sends signals to the brain, which is one explanation for the role gut health plays in so many other areas of health and wellbeing. 

Which foods improve gut health?

A range of different foods can help to improve your gut health, but they all have one thing in common: they do it by positively affecting the bacteria that live there. And it’s your gut bacteria – both the type and the diversity – that are key. 

Not only do they influence the production of the neurotransmitters that live in your second brain, they also produce chemicals that send signals to your ‘head brain’.  

Eating more of the 5 foods listed below is a good place to start to support your gut health.
  • 1. Asparagus - It contains something called fructooligosaccharide (FOS), a fibre that’s a natural prebiotic, stimulating the production of bacteria in the large intestine that boost intestinal immunity
  • 2. Firm bananas - These are a good source of resistant starch, which, like FOS, resists digestion in the small intestine so it’s able to feed the good bacteria living in the large bowel
  • 3. Pistachios - Eating a small serve every day not only helps modify the composition of gut bacteria, it increases the volume of a specific type of bacteria that produce a fatty acid which helps protect the bowel’s lining
  • 4. Sauerkraut - It delivers a hit of probiotics to your digestive system. Probiotics are live bacteria that help to restore a healthy balance to your gut’s bacterial population
  • 5. Chickpeas - These contain another type of prebiotic fibre called galacto-oligosaccharides – or GOS – that travels through the gut and stimulates the growth and activity of good bacteria

What else improves gut health?

As well as diet, there are other things you can do to improve your gut health. Getting plenty of good quality sleep and doing some regular physical activity can help .