Dr Megan Rossi, known as the Gut Health Doctor, is one of the leading experts in the world when it comes to gut health. In this information-packed episode Megan discusses:
Dietitian Dr Megan Rossi, aka the Gut Health Doctor, is one of the top gut health experts on the planet and a leading researcher at King’s College Hospital, London. Here she explains why plant-based diversity is essential for a thriving microbiome, how to banish bloating, and why healthy digestion isn’t all about diet
‘Good gut health was inherent to my upbringing – playing in the dirt, which is linked to diversity of gut bacteria; eating fresh fruit and veg. I started work as a dietitian in a hospital and became the nutritionist for the Australian Olympic synchronised swimming team. What I found striking was despite all the swimmers having different backgrounds, they were all complaining about the gut. I decided to embark on a PhD to find out more about this somewhat undiscovered organ. That changed everything for me. It showed me targeting the gut can have far-reaching and surprising benefits on things like our heart health and mental health. If we treat our gut right and respect it, it harnesses so much power and potential.’
‘We all bloat naturally after a large meal. But if it’s continuous bloating, think about the underlying cause. If we’re not chewing our food at least 15-25 times, it can result in malabsorption of nutrition. Often people laugh and say that’s too simple a solution, but in 40% of people it’s enough to get rid of it.
‘Having too many sugar-free foods containing sugar alcohols such as xylitol and sorbitol is another bloating trigger. Or some people have an intolerance to lactose, the sugar in milk, and don’t have the enzymes to break it down. Lactose intolerance is particularly common in people of Asian and African backgrounds.
‘For others, it’s about the gut-brain axis. Stress literally strangles your gut, so no matter what you eat, it’s putting pressure on your digestion. There’s also “tight pants syndrome” – one GP diagnosed the trend for high-waisted trousers causing tummy pain and bloating. He said “undo your belt”, and the bloating resolved.’
‘I call them the Super Six: wholegrains; nuts and seeds; fruit; vegetables; legumes, beans and pulses; and herbs and spices. If you’re getting some of each every day, that’s enough to maximise gut bacteria and reduce the negative effects of antibiotics.
‘My concept of Plant Points came from a research study showing that people who ate at least 30 different types of plants per week had better gut health than those with the same 10 on repeat. It was important because it showed you don’t need to be 100% plant-based to have good gut health: the biggest predictor is diversity.
‘I set people a target of 30, with simple hacks for getting there without any extra cost or effort. For example, rather than pumpkin seeds, get a three-seed mix. Instead of broccoli, buy a multipack of vegetables for steaming. Or buy packs with seven types of grain that take 10 minutes to cook, like rice.
‘It’s important because each plant contains different chemicals which feed different bacteria. People are surprised that products like quinoa, buckwheat or freekeh don’t have a high price tag or aren’t hard to cook. It’s about spending an extra 10 minutes in the aisles looking for plant diversity where you can.’
‘But people can get put off. That’s because the backbone to all plant-based foods is dietary fibre, which humans can’t digest. It gets through most of our 9m digestive tract undigested, then the last 1.5m, the large intestine, is where most gut bacteria live. Here enzymes break down fibre – and one waste product is gas.
‘If you’re not used to plant-based foods, introduce them slowly. Legumes are a good source of prebiotics (the food for good bacteria) and usually types of dietary fibre, but if you’re new to them, we recommend triple-rinsing canned beans, to get rid of some of this. However, I’ve never met a gut so sensitive it can’t learn to deal more efficiently with legumes. Add half a serving a week over three months, or start with a tablespoon of chickpeas a day and build it up. Our gut is incredible at adjusting.’
‘Research shows that diets like keto, where you’re cutting out important plant-based foods, reduce diversity of gut bacteria. What we ultimately want is more diversity, as each type of bacteria does different things for the body. People with more types have better gut health but also better overall health.
‘For those with IBS, there’s clinical evidence for the low FODMAP diet, where you restrict fermentable carbohydrates [which can cause gas, cramps, diarrhoea and constipation] for four weeks, then reintroduce them. It gives the gut a little bit of rest. However, research shows if you stay on it too long, it reduces beneficial gut bacteria. In my book, Eat Well, Live Well, I’ve developed a gentler FODMAP-lite approach, and that’s enough to benefit 60% of people.’
‘No matter how perfect your gut-boosting diet is, if you’re super-stressed, not sleeping enough and not moving your body, you’re not going to have good but health. These are living organisms within us so if you’re stressed, that stresses them out. Bacteria also have a circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) so if ours is disturbed, theirs is disturbed – we all know what it’s like to be sleep deprived, we can be inefficient and get quite angry. Studies also show independent of diet, moving our body can increase diversity of gut bacteria. Our muscles get a buzz out of it – but our gut bacteria do, too.’
‘One of my key things is overnight fermented oats: there’s something about knowing that I’m starting the day right. It’s super-easy to make your own porridge mix: maybe put some carrot in there, dates, whatever seeds and nuts you want, and oats. Then add in some kefir, which contains live micro-organisms.
‘Leave it out on the bench, and the bacteria and yeast from the kefir overnight start to break down and ferment those oats and other ingredients. In the morning, you’ll notice little bubbles. It creates an incredible flavour as well as adding chemicals that the bacteria produce when they start to ferment food, which are linked with better health.
‘Outside of diet, I try to prioritise 10 minutes of mindfulness to relax the gut-brain axis. That really does get me in the right frame of mind.’
Eat Yourself Healthy and Eat More, Live Well by Dr Megan Rossi are out now. Follow Dr Rossi on Instagram @theguthealthdoctor.
Want to learn more? Listen to more episodes The Wellness Edit podcast here.
A doctor for over 17 years, Gemma Newman has worked in many specialities as a doctor including elderly care, endocrinology, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, psychiatry, general surgery, urology, vascular surgery, rehabilitation medicine and General Practice.
Dr Newman's specialist interests are in holistic health and plant-based nutrition as well as lifestyle medicine. In her practice she has come to understand that body, mind and soul are not separate, and that it is only in addressing the root causes of stress and disconnection that we can truly heal, from the inside out.