Gut Feelings: Understanding our 'second brain'

The gut, often dubbed “the second brain”, has the ability to affect everything from your moods to your waistline. Keep it clean and healthy with nutritionist Jordana Ventzke’s advice
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April 14, 2019

“More and more research is starting to show the beneficial relationship our gut health has on our general wellbeing", says Jordana Ventzke, a licensed dietitian working at Dubai’s Infinity, The Family Medicine Clinic. It affects the central nervous system and it helps our bodies digest food. Research has even shown it to be linked to an increased risk of mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, and people with autism spectrum disorders often suffer from gastrointestinal problems and can have fewer gut bacteria compared to others.

“We need to realise the importance of keeping this in good condition,” Jordana continues. In order to do so, it’s important to understand the role gut flora plays in our diet. This good bacteria helps to break down food and absorb nutrients. “Generally speaking, about 85 per cent of the gut is colonised by good bacteria and only 15 per cent by bad bacteria,” says Jordana – and the good bacteria actually helps to keep the bad ones down. While you can take probiotic supplements to boost your body’s supply of good bacteria, the best way to ensure your gut flora has a healthy balance is by eating wholesome and nutrient-rich foods – and by keeping stress levels down. “When the body is stressed, we provide an environment for the bad bacteria to proliferate and cause infection and disease,” she adds.

1. Kimchi, Korea

It‘s high in probiotics due to the fermentation of bacteria present on the cabbage leaves that converts sugars into lactic acid, which aids
in digestion.

2. Sauerkraut, Germany 

Essentially, it‘s the German kimchi. Generally, fermented foods are gut-friendly, since the fermentation helps increase the good bacteria present in food.

3. Kombucha, China

This fermented tea drink is high in probiotics, which helps feed good bacteria. Kombucha can be produced using a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast).

4. Miso Soup, Japan

This is another fermented food, so it’s also great for good bacteria. Miso is created by fermenting soybeans with salt and koji (a mould starter). Miso is also a good source of B vitamins.

5. Natto, Japan

Made from fermented soybean, natto has a stringy texture with a distinctive smell. This probiotic-rich food is known to help strengthen the immune system.

6. Kanji, India 

Made from fermented soybean, natto has a stringy texture with a distinctive smell. This probiotic-rich food is known to help strengthen the immune system.

7. Strained Yoghurt aka Greek Yoghurt, Greece

There are plenty of probiotics in this due to the addition of healthy bacteria that act on the lactose to produce an easier-to-digest food.

8. Crème fraîche, France

Essentially fermented cream, this acts in a very similar way to Greek yoghurt, but it has lesser whey in it. Crème fraîche is soured with a bacterial culture and is quite high in probiotics.

9. Sour Cream, Eastern Europe

As with Greek yoghurt and crème fraiche, sour cream contains probiotics – however, even more whey has been removed from it, so it contains a higher level of fat.

10. Cornichons

Made through pickling, these do contain probiotics – but just be aware that most of the probiotics are found in the vinegar, rather than the vegetable.