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Gut health is becoming more and more of a trending topic, and for good reason too. The science is now showing that our gut health is linked to basically everything else in our body. A good gut microbiome keeps us healthier and can even reduce obesity. Sadly, in todays world where everything is hyper-processed and mass-produced, our gut health is suffering. This is fueling the obesity epidemic, along with many other associated diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Luckily we as gardeners, have the upper hand. There are many ways in which gardening can help your gut microbes.
It’s in the soil
We all know that breathing fresh air is good for you. Turns out, so is getting our hands dirty. The obsession with everything being clinically clean nowadays is reducing our microbes and may also be increasing allergy rates. Soil is full of billions of beneficial micro-organisms including gut-boosting bacteria. So next time you’re out in the garden and find yourself feeling a little peckish, having a little dirt on your hands whilst you eat an apple is not going to kill you. If anything it may do you good.
Further to this, land being used for commercial farming is becoming depleted of nutrients. Feeding your soil with nutrient rich mulches (without any added fertilisers!) will help keep the soil health for the long term. Nutrient rich soil = nutrient rich veggies. Hands up if you’ve ever had a carrot that tasted of water from the supermarket?
Grow gut boosting foods
Probiotic food contains gut-boosting bacteria, prebiotic food feeds the good bacteria already in your gut. Top sources of prebiotics include chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes and the allium family (particularly garlic!). Even one of the most common weeds you will come across is high in prebiotics – dandelion leaves! I am yet to see chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes and dandelion leaves on the shelves in my local Tesco, so this is one where as gardeners we really do have the upper hand.
Grow a large variety
According to Tim Spector, Professor of Epidemiology at Kings College London, eating a minimum of 30 different plant foods each week can give you and your gut microbes the upper hand. Of course, the more the merrier, and the more variety you have the healthier your gut microbiome will be.
Supermarkets have such a limited range of fruits and vegetables. As gardeners, the world is our oyster. There are so many different types and colours of all fruits and vegetables available to us, so we really should use this to our advantage.
So this is your green light to grow a large range of tomatoes, peppers, carrots, beans, beetroot and squash. Grow a mix of them all and don’t let anyone try to talk you out of it. You could also grow some more unusual vegetables, herbs & edible flowers too.
Preserving your harvest
If you find yourself with a glut of certain veggies, a great way to preserve your harvest is fermentation. Fermented foods are full of probiotics to give your gut microbes a real boost. Sauerkraut and kimchi are two well known examples. Adding a little of these to your daily diet can really help boost your gut health.
Don’t be afraid to try your hand at fermenting, it is not as scary as it might seem. It is also such a great way to preserve your harvests without using heat or refrigeration. I have a jar of sauerkraut in my cupboard from autumn 2020 which is still perfectly fine to eat. I will share more posts on fermenting in the coming months.
For those with limited growing space or don’t have a garden
If you’re reading this and have little access to growing space, then there is plenty in the natural world that you can forage for free. I highly recommend this book if you’re based in the UK, because it tells you can forage each month, whilst also helping you identify plants and teaching you where you may find things.
More on gut health
This post has been inspired after reading this book by Tim Spector. This is just a very short blog post and barely scratches the surface, and is very much aimed at the microbial benefits to be had from gardening. The book is crammed full of lots more useful information and I would encourage anyone who is serious about their health to read it. It is not the lightest read, but has helped me look at food from a completely different (much healthier) perspective.