For those who follow health and wellness news, the terms ‘gut microbiome’, ‘prebiotics’ or ‘bifidobacteria’ may sound familiar. Gut-related messages are flooding the media and rising in popularity, and for good reason too.

The gut microbiome

The gut microbiome describes the trillions of bacteria and microorganisms that live within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. These microorganisms are responsible for biological functions, which improve individuals’ health and wellbeing. For instance, digestion of food, nutrient absorption and synthesis. However, their job extends further than the GI tract, with the gut microbiome influencing our body weight, brain function, immune system, metabolism and mood.

The impact of the gut microbiota

Day-to-day, the human population makes various choices, having long-term implications on our health. Some of these choices, we have autonomy over. For instance, whether we smoke, drink, binge watch Netflix or eat a highly-processed diet. Research has shown that these modifiable risk factors play a major role in the gut bacteria that live and thrive in our GI tract. As our gut matures, we can selectively engage in health-promoting behaviours, which can result in gut health optimisation. Diet plays a critical role in strengthening both our physical and mental wellbeing.

Gut-Brain Axis

The gut and brain are connected through several pathways, with diet playing a central role in bi-directional communication. This is known as the ‘Gut-Brain Axis’. The central nervous system and the GI tract work together, allowing for messages to be sent efficiently and effectively. Therefore, the body can regulate and synchronise the GI functions, adjust digestive processes and influence the physical and emotional state of a person. Hence, why a good quality diet is so important for our physical and mental health.

Good vs. Poor Quality Diet

To maximise the strength of the gut microbiome, we want to consistently eat a good-quality diet, full of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. These food groups contain a wide variety of pre- and probiotic fibres, which assist in feeding and colonising healthy gut bacteria. As a result, we have a richer and more diverse gut microbiome, a stronger immune system, reduced inflammation across the body and a sturdier intestinal wall. In contrast, a poor-quality diet can have adverse effects on an individual’s physical and mental health. Research has shown that eating a highly processed, nutritionally inadequate diet can stimulate low levels of inflammation throughout the body and reduce the size of the hippocampus. This is part of the brain responsible for retaining information, learning, and regulating mood. Individuals who follow a poor-quality diet are therefore at an increased risk of anxiety, depression and chronic conditions, like diabetes, fatty liver disease and obesity.


There are many recommendations when it comes to gut health optimisation. Firstly, opt for high-fibre foods, rich in colour and flavour. This is most easily found in fruits and vegetables. Secondly, it is recommended to consume a wide variety of food containing pre- and probiotic fibres. These pre- and prebiotic fibres promote healthy gut bacteria colonisation and strengthen a synergistic relationship between the gut and the brain. Fantastic food examples include banana, garlic, onion, prebiotic-fortified bread, oats, kombucha, yoghurt and kefir. Lastly, aim to consume 30 types of whole foods across a given week. This includes food from fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Each type of food contains a unique nutrient profile, all contributing to a healthy gut!