Scientist who’s cracked the secret to great gut health

Dr Rossi earned her PhD in gut health at the University of Queensland, where she took the Dean’s Prize for outstanding research, and is now a research fellow at King’s College London as well as running her own private practice, The Gut Health Clinic. When she arrived in London six years ago, she was “struck by the amount of ultra-processed food around” and how few “varieties of produce people were eating”. Pre-packed sandwiches were described as healthy “because they had a bit of lettuce in. My patients were of the impression that eating plants equalled boring and flavourless. It was a culture shock for me.”

Back on the north-east Queensland farm on which she grew up – where three generations of the originally Italian family lived together – 33-year-old Rossi recalls eating all kinds of plants, including a wide range of wholegrain, pulses, fruit and veg daily. And “once I started working here as a dietitian, I saw all this amazing research work coming out… [yet] people were being led to believe that they had to go on overly restrictive diets that were near impossible to maintain to achieve their health goals. That just led to disappointment, and made people feel like failures. The science shows being healthy is much easier, I promise.”

Dr Rossi started sharing her ideas via social media and was “blown away by the interest” – especially when she noticed her followers included Jamie Oliver and Davina McCall.

The area that most were taken by was the gut microbiome – our natural gut flora that contains trillions of different bacteria. Scientists are finding that a varied microbiome is essential to many different areas of health, from the obvious – problems such as irritable bowel syndrome and weight gain – to the basics of fighting off every disease that hits the body, including viruses but also cancer and dementia.

Creating a healthy gut flora is simple, Dr Rossi adds, and requires no self-denial or drugs. “We need to focus on eating more plants,” she says. But not exclusively plants; a style of eating that places much greater emphasis on what you’re adding in rather than cutting out, and consuming the widest possible choice of fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, seeds, nuts and pulses.

The key point is that there is a hugely mutually symbiotic relationship between what we eat and the bacteria inside us that craves it. So if we eat herbs, certain bacteria will benefit from breaking them down in the microbiome, at the same time releasing chemicals from the herbs – such as polyphenols, which promote cell renewal – that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to absorb.

Fibrous foods are another example. Unless we have the right gut bacteria to digest fibre we can’t digest it properly. Fibre is particularly crucial to ensuring a healthy microbiome, which in turn is linked with better mental health, heart health, metabolism and so on.

It’s also crucial to the relationship between our gut and our metabolism, she explains. Gut bacteria and the chemicals they make when they digest the fibre we eat from plants can help us feel full, halting the production of hunger hormones such as ghrelin, and boosting the “I’m full” hormones such as leptin.

She is not a fan of commercial microbiome tests either – the ones that require a stool sample and send back lengthy analyses. “They can’t predict illness – not yet anyway – and there are thousands of gut bacteria that have not been identified yet… I don’t recommend people waste their money on these. We need to do more research.”

So how do we get this large variety of plants into the daily diet? “The goal is to enjoy something from each of what I call the super six categories: wholegrains, nuts and seeds, fruit, veg, legumes and beans, and herbs and spices. Note how many different varieties you eat in one week.”

This content was originally published here.

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