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Exploring Your Gut & Microbiome

Q&A with Abbey Sharp

Photo Credit: Deluxe Media Group

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What is your favourite part of your day-to-day role as a registered dietitian and sharing your expertise on social media?

I love that every day and week is different thanks to the constantly evolving public interests in food and nutrition. I’m a very creative person so its really fun to try to come up with new ways to communicate nutrition in simple ways that are easy for the lay person to understand.

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What is the best way to improve your gut health? Are their specific foods that are particularly beneficial for your microbiome?

The things that improve our gut health are also things that are well known to improve our overall health. The big one is fiber. Fiber acts as the food (aka. a prebiotic) for the good bacteria in our gut (probiotics). While our human digestive tract can’t break down and utilize fiber as fuel or calories, our gut microbiome does! No different than us, our gut bacteria also like a variety of different foods so we ideally want to try to eat a wide variety of healthy plant-foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and legumes. We can also add to our healthy bacterial colonies by actually consuming probiotics through fermented food (ie. Yogurt, kefir, miso, kimchee) and also through a high quality supplement. Finally, general lifestyle factors also affect our gut, namely stress! There is a very strong relationship between our mental health and our gut health thanks to the brain gut axis. It’s the reason for the popular adage “butterflies in your stomach”. So reducing stress can also improve our digestion and overall gut health.

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As an RD, what advice do you have for Canadians who are struggling with chronic gut and digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis?

First of all, its very important to work with your doctor and dietitian on a diet that feels good to you since people’s experiences with these conditions can vary so dramatically. In some cases, a certain group of vegetables may be wildly beneficial, while in others, it might trigger unpleasant symptoms. There also tends to be a lot of misinformation online about the best “diets” for digestive disorders, but in a lot of cases, these can do more harm than good so always seek out individualized advise when you can.

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What advice do you have for parents looking to incorporate healthy food into their meal planning and how to prioritize their family’s microbiome health?

Eat more colorful plants! The easiest thing to do to improve gut health is to eat the rainbow at every meal. Plant foods are our only sources of fiber which is the food for our gut bacteria. And eating a wide variety of plants is going to help support a more diverse fruitful community of beneficial bacteria.

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How does the microbiome influence condition beyond the digestive system?

About 70% of our immune system is housed in out gut, so a healthy gut microbiome also means better protection against a wide range of illnesses and disease. Our gut also is home to 50% of our dopamine and 90% of our serotonin levels, so our mood and cognitive state are also grately affected by the health of our gut.

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