Eating for your gut and its microbes
Trillions of microbes inhabit your gut (mostly in the large intestine) and play a fundamental role in your health throughout your life – say hello to your gut microbes…WAH?
Lets break this down….the environment in your gut is like a festival (remember those?!)
…the Field/Stage is always set (think of this as your physical gut)
your microbes are the different people at the festival – everyone plays a different part, some are the movers and others the shakers and some might cause a little trouble…
…the food trucks (what we eat) cater to your microbes different tastes, they love a bit of fibre and a rainbow of different colours…
… as well as food, there’s other things that influence them like how much we sleep (probably not much at a festival), how much we move (lots at a festival!) and stress… they can be very easily influenced so we need to keep that happy at their little “gut festival”…
Right got it, So what do they actually do though?
We need microbes within, around and on us because they influence your physical and mental health, your ability to digest food and even your susceptibility to disease (70% of your immune system is found in your gut!). What is key is making sure your microbes are a diverse bunch (meaning there are lots of different types) and the vibe in your gut is just right so they don’t want to leave.
Your microbes are fickle things and can change really quickly, for better or worse, in response to dietary and/or lifestyle changes. This often happens around key life changing events, like living away from home and/or starting university.
When you are studying you want your brain to be on top form and your microbes are key to that!
Whether moving away or staying at home, starting university means a big lifestyle change for you and your microbes! Now is the start of some fundamental life decisions to make, not to mention exams and coursework. This often leads to stress or anxiety which, interestingly, can affect your gut microbes too through the gut-brain axis – the physical and chemical connections between your gut and brain.
In a nutshell, how we feel effects our microbes and how our microbes behave, what types we have and the stuff they produce, affect how we feel (like a WhatsApp chat going off the whole time!). So looking after your gut and it’s community of microbes might go some way in supporting how you feel and supporting your brain to help you study.
When starting uni you might find yourself having to cook for yourself, grabbing late night takeaways, staying up late, not moving as much, increasing your consumption of processed food (crisps, biscuits, ready meals), boozy nights and caffeine fuelled lectures. What does this mean for your gut? You are probably going to be eating less plants and fibre, more ultra processed food (your microbes don’t like this at all!), sleep may be erratic (your microbes love routine) and moving less will all affect how diverse and thriving your gut microbes are. Diversity = a happy and healthy microbial community (AKA a bangin’ festival).
Our tips for looking after your gut during your time at university:
Fibre and diversity: Back to those festival food trucks – you need as many different plant foods as possible. You microbes need a variety of plants (we are talking 30+ a week, including whole grains, veg, fruit, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices) and they feed on fibre – you need 30g a day! Mother nature kindly packages up a range of different fibres in plant foods – so getting that variety in is key to hitting that magic 30 number. Familiarise yourself with the fibre content of common foods by checking out our fibre table. Research shows that by aiming to hit 30 different plants a week you are going to help support a diverse mix of microbes (this is a good thing!)
Tips: head to reduced aisle at the end of the day to see what plant bargains you can bag, have a kitty with your house mates and take it in turns to cook a proper meal (give our fakeaways a go), include pulses and legumes (dried is way cheaper – just takes a little longer to cook) in your meals to make them go further (like a spag Bol with lentils) and make plants the star of your meals (will save you some pennies too). By doing this, you’ll also be loading up on fibre – what your microbes need for fuel.
Planning your meals and writing a shopping list will help you budget and research shows it may even encourage you to eat healthier and more vegetables – win for your microbes (and your brain!).
Sleep: we aren’t saying don’t go out late or stay up burning the midnight oil finishing an essay BUT be aware that your gut microbes are also tuned to day-night cycles and can be upset if your sleep becomes erratic. For example, some microbes come out at night to do different functions to the ones in the day so if you suddenly start chowing down on some 2am cheesy chips, it’s going to upset them as well as affect how you feel, what you crave the next day and how your body manages your metabolism.
Alcohol: we can’t talk about student life without mentioning alcohol and it’s affect on your gut. You actually have (or may not have) microbes in your gut that help you breakdown and get rid of alcohol. In excess, alcohol can have a negative impact on your gut by aggregating your gut lining (some microbes live within a mucus layer) and making the environment less favourable to the more beneficial types. We’ve got a whole heap of information on alcohol and the gut.. Mixers used are often ultra processed, which, as we’ve already mentioned above, have a negative impact on your microbes, not to mention the ultra processed foods you might crave the day after the night before. What is key is to get to know your units, moderate how much you drink, include food and be mindful of how it might affect your food choices the next day.
Listen to your gut (and it’s microbes) for a chance to get to know it better and live that gut life.
For help, advice and resources whilst studying at NTU, take a look at the following for sources of support.
- Support from NTU
- Self-Care books in NTU’s libraries
- Silvercloud: SilverCloud is our online system designed to help with a range of mental health issues.
- Health and Wellbeing resources
- NTSU Information and Advice service
- Wellness in Mind: Advice and support for anyone in Nottingham experiencing issues with their mental wellbeing
- Student Minds or Student Space
- 10 Keys to happiness