Top Tips for Good Gut Health

The gut is one of the most important organs in the body and keeping it healthy is vital to our overall health and wellbeing. It can be easy to take it for granted, but this special organ really does deserve to be looked after. After all, the gut plays a key role in our immune system, is the largest organ in the body and even has its own ‘brain’!  The good news is that it isn’t hard to show your gut some love, Dietitian Jo Travers shares her top tips for good gut health.

“The gut has been found to do a lot more than just digest the food we eat. It contains 150 million nerve cells[1] and is home to trillions of bacteria which play a vital role in providing essential nutrients, tuning the immune system and even altering the function of the brain and other distant parts of the body.

The health of our gut has an impact on not only our digestion but also inflammation, our immune system and can even affect our weight. However, with a little looking after, it will definitely look after you”

  1. Eat a varied diet

Your gut is home to a range of helpful bacteria that help train our immune system, digest food and even affect our genes. To keep them thriving, you need to feed them well.[2] Fibre-based foods are perfect for this so eat plenty of plant foods such as vegetables, beans and whole grains.

  1. Manage stress

Stress – physical or psychological – triggers a chain reaction in the body, including the production of the stress hormone cortisol, which can cause dysregulation of the communication pathways between the gut and the brain, known as the gut-brain axis[3]. This may mean changes to blood flow and secretions in the gut, which in turn create better conditions for pathological bacteria and inhibit the growth of some helpful bacteria[4].

  1. Eat fermented foods

Traditional fermentation of foods like yoghurt and kimchi grows lactic acid bacteria which colonise the gut when eaten and may have a positive effect on metabolism[5]. Introducing bacteria to your gut through fermented foods can also support the bacteria that are already living there[6].

  1. Keep hydrated

For food to move through the digestion system and bowels, it needs to be lubricated well and this simply means drinking enough water. Aim for around 2 litres of water every day[7].

  1. Eat prebiotics

Prebiotics are fibres often found in plant foods that we can’t digest but the bacteria in our gut can. In fact, gut bacteria feed on prebiotics and digest them for us. Our gut health has been shown to benefit from this in several ways such as reducing inflammation in the gut[8], having a protective anti-cancer effect and influencing the absorption of nutrients[9].

Further Information

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[1] Raj K et al. (1996) The Brain and the Gut. NEJM Vol. 334: 1106-1115

[2] David et al. (2014) Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome. Nature 505:559–563

[3] Konturek PC et al.(2011). Stress and the gut: Pathophysiology, clinical consequences, diagnostic approach and treatment options. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology: an Official Journal of the

[4] Galley JD et al. (2014) Exposure to a social stressor disrupts the community structure of the colonic mucosa-associated microbiota. BMC Microbiol. 14:189. doi:10.1186/1471-2180-14-189

[5] Kim et al. (2011) Fermented kimchi reduces body weight and improves metabolic parameters in overweight and obese patients. Nutr Res. 31(6):436-43.

[6] Burmeister A (2015) Horizontal Gene Transfer. Evol Med Public Health.2015(1): 193–194.

[7] EFSA Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition, and Allergies (NDA) (2010), Scientific opinion on dietary reference values for water. EFSA Journal, 8: Issue 3, 1459

[8] Chung et al. (2017) Prebiotic potential of pectin and pectic oligosaccharides to promote anti-inflammatory commensal bacteria in the human colon. FEMS Microbiology Ecology 93(11). doi: 10.1093/femsec/fix127

[9] Macfarlane GT et al. (2008) Bacterial metabolism and health-related effects of galacto-oligosaccharides and other prebiotics. J Appl Microbiol. 104(2):305-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2672.2007.03520.x.