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Jeannette Hyde – An Introduction to Gut Health

What is gut health and why is this subject hot?

This is a question I’m often asked, as a nutritional therapist and author of bestselling books, The Gut Makeover, and The Gut Makeover Recipe Book.

Gut health, refers to the health of your digestive system and the trillions of bacteria in it – all one and a half kilos of it. The topic gut health tends to be on your radar when it is out of balance. You know if you’re in good gut health because it isn’t concerning you. You’ll cook, eat, digest, and go about your day, happy, energetic, at the right weight feeling your very best. Digestion of food takes care of itself.

“Signs your gut is out of balance include heartburn, loose stools, constipation, and bloating.”

You may have been diagnosed with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome – the blanket term used for digestive malaise). If you’ve ever experienced any of these it may be time to focus on what you eat, and how you cook and eat, to improve your gut bacteria and consequently symptoms.

Some background: the digestive system is one long tube running from mouth to anus and contains lots of bacteria referred to as the microbiome, or microbiota. The last compartment of your digestive system, the colon is where the most amount of bacteria reside. This needs to be rich in diversity – which means having lots of different types of bacteria in there.

So this is where the really interesting bit comes – when your microbiome is healthy and thriving with lots of diversity of bacteria and friendly types, not only does digestion look after it self, but research is now showing that lots of other parts of our health are affected too.

The bacteria talk to our immune system and make it work well. Our bacteria control our hunger hormones and metabolism to keep our weight in check or influence weight loss without counting calories.  They also help keep us in good mental health via a nerve called the vagus which connects the gut and the brain. Bacteria are key to a well-functioning gut where digestion takes care of itself.

So how do you get a healthy microbiome? It really is this simple: eat a rainbow of different plants at every meal. According to The American Gut Project which looked at thousands of people’s poo to see what their diversity of bacteria looked like, the people with the best microbiomes are those who eat more than 30 different plants a week.

When we eat mountains of different textures and colours from vegetables, fruit, fresh herbs, nuts, and seeds, these provide food for the bacteria in the colon, they are stimulated to grow and thrive and make you healthy too.

The microbiome can suffer if we take antibiotics (lots of the bacteria get killed). The microbiome also suffers if we eat a narrow diet, with similar foods day after day, and aren’t putting enough plants in to feed all the different types of hungry bacteria down there.

“Include more than 30 plants a week along with whatever else it is you normally eat.”

Whatever type of diet you are following whether omnivore, pescatarian, vegetarian, vegan, paleo, ketogenic, Mediterranean, you name it, the principle is the same – include more than 30 plants a week along with whatever else it is you normally eat.

Now you may be thinking – I have digestive issues, I can’t eat all that fibre and colour!

Two points.  This is a common response especially from anyone with IBS who has been put on the low FODMAPS diet where many types of vegetables and fruit are cut out of the diet to give the colon a rest. It can be helpful for a few short weeks for some people, but make sure you start opening up your diet to a wide variety of foods soon after otherwise your microbiome can see a reduction in diversity which can lead to more digestive and health issues.

Secondly, when introducing lots of fibre and colour into your diet, slow cooking is an ideal way to introduce it. When fibre is cooked for hours on end, it becomes more broken down and easier to digest, locking in all the vitamins and minerals in the juice in the pot at the same time.

“When introducing lots of fibre and colour into your diet, slow cooking is an ideal way to introduce it. Locks in all the vitamins and minerals in the juice in the pot at the same time.”

Now, many of us don’t have time to cook our food for hours on end, and that is where a safe, easy -to-use pressure cooker comes in handy – eg the Pressure King Pro (PKP), where you get the gut health benefits of slow cooking, but in minutes by cooking using pressure.

This Lamb and Spinach Curry recipe originally from my book, The Gut Makeover Recipe Book is a winner with family and friends, or on your own. It can be batch cooked and frozen in one-person portions easily. The meat is beautifully tender from the pressurised cooking (so making it less work for your digestive system to digest) and contains 9 of your 30 plants in a week, in one meal.

Every ingredient in here is a gut enhancer. Here are the highlights:

1)    The polyphenols (plant chemicals) in the colour of extra virgin olive oil feed good bacteria in the gut. It is safe to gently heat extra virgin olive oil as extra virgin contains high quantities of polyphenols which can help protect the oil from damage.

2)    Red onions bring purple colour, food for gut bacteria.

3)    Garlic – promotes growth of good bacteria.

4)    Ginger – promotes growth of good bacteria.

5)    Chillies contain capsaicin, a compound loved by gut bacteria in particular Akkermansia which are connected with weight control without counting calories.

6)    Turmeric – more amazing colour for your gut bacteria, and anti-inflammatory. Feeds Bifidobacteria which are really helpful ones for gut and brain health.

7)    Plum tomatoes – the colour red and another type of texture for your gut bacteria.

8)    Spinach – green leafy veg are loved by many types of gut bacteria.

9)  Coriander – more texture, more deep green colour.


Jeannette Hyde's Lamb & Spinach Curry

Jeannette’s Lamb and Spinach Curry recipe is originally from The Gut Makeover Recipe Book. The meat is beautifully tender from the pressurised cooking…

See more of Jeannette’s work at

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