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Lately, gut health shots seem to be everywhere. But are they any good for your digestion. And are they actually worth your hard earned money?

As an IBS nutritionist, this is my specialist subject. So recently, the Sun newspaper asked me to spill the beans on gut shots.

5 glass bottles of yoghurt in a cluster on a dark wooden table. Bottles have green screw on lids.

What are ‘gut shots’?

The article was prompted by the publicity of the Zoe and M&S gut shot.

A gut shot is a small bottle of probiotic or prebiotic drinks with the claim to improve your digestion and microbiome.

  • Some of them work through adding live friendly bacteria into the digestive tract.
  • Others work by increasing the amount of prebiotic fibre.

Gut health is linked to overall health

There is mounting evidence linking the microbes in your large intestine to various aspects of our well-being.

From immune function to mental wellbeing and even the risk of diseases like Alzheimer’s all seem to have a connection to the gut microbes.

So wouldn’t it be cool if we could take something to boost the goodness?

Don’t ignore the basics of a healthy diet

As I emphasized in The SUN article, these shots may offer some benefits for our digestion and gut microbiome. But you shouldn’t forget about the fundamentals of a healthy lifestyle.

Building the basics

We shouldn’t rely on drinking daily gut shots over a balanced diet rich in whole foods, fibre, and nutrients. If you eat a range of different fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds you’ll be getting more fibre and nutrients from your food. 

While the marketplace teems with an array of digestion-boosting products, from yogurts to supplements, the question is: do we actually need a shot to improve our digestion?

What to consider when looking at a gut shot drink

If you’re tempted and want to try them, what should you look for in a shot?

Probiotics 

If the product is claiming to include probiotic bacteria then which strains are in the drink? And how much of them are guaranteed to be in each product? Some drinks give the specific strains, and the amount of bacteria per serving.

Levels of sugar

Watch how much sugar your shot has. Some of then ones I looked at had a large amount of added sugars per serving. Some products were sweetened with fruit.

Any beneficial ingredients

Some drinks claim added antioxidants, or vitamins, so I looked at whether this was likely to be relevant in the context of your normal diet. In many cases the vitamins listed on the front of the shot were at tiny amounts, which wouldn’t make much difference to your wellbeing. 

Fibre content

If the goal of the shot is to feed the large intestine microbes then it’s important to look at the levels of fibre included. A few of the products contained fibre at a level that was helpful, but many of them didn’t. You can obtain this level of fibre from eating a piece of fruit in many cases. 

A nutritionist’s take on the gut shot trend:

Here’s my thoughts on a selection of products chosen by the journalist. To read my article https://www.thesun.co.uk/health/25449179/gut-health-shots-review-marks-and-spencer/

Some had high sugar

The Activia Gut health Yoghurt has 14g sugar per bottle, which is 15% of your daily recommended sugar limit. This equates to over 3 tsp per serving.

Whilst I’m not saying all sugar is bad, you could easily be adding to your free sugar intake without realising it with this one. In one shot, some of the sugar was from fruit pulp which would add a bit of fibre. Other products were sweetened with stevia, which doesn’t affect blood sugars.

Probiotic bacteria

Some products have named the bacteria, but it’s unclear how much will be in each pot, or the probiotic benefits it will have.

Yakult has just one strain of bacteria – L. casei Shirota at 20 billion per bottle.  It’s one of the only products to guarantee and name the amount per serving. This bacteria is known to be good for improving digestion and has been well researched.

Extra nutrients

Some of the products claim added vitamins and antioxidants to help boost your health. In general there isn’t really enough vitamins or minerals in most of these to make a difference to your body.

  • Activia Gut Health Yoghurt provides 18% of your daily calcium intake per 100g which is good for bones and teeth.
  • Holland and Barrett Glow Kombucha contains added vitamin C, but only about the same as eating an orange, so unlikely to have a significant effect in your body. And actually, if you ate an orange it would be better for you as you’d also get the antioxidants and fibre!
  • The No 1 Living Gut Brain Kombucha Health Shot has 100% of the recommended intake of key B vitamins and iodine, which may help support brain health and energy. You shouldn’t drink more than one shot a day because of this.

If a product says it contains a nutrient like vitamin D, or C but doesn’t say how much, then I’d assume it’s minimal!

 

Fibre and prebiotics

Some of the products, like No 1 Living Gut Brain Kombucha Health Shot include prebiotic fibre. This one has 4.5g of a prebiotic, from chicory inulin. If you’ve got IBS you might already know that inulin is high FODMAP.
Not everyone with IBS needs to avoid it, but it can cause issues for some of you. (read more about FODMAPS)
Inulin is a prebiotic which can improve your gut lining and feed beneficial bacteria. But it can also make you very bloated due to the fermentation by bacteria, so start with caution.

Deeply Gut Health Food Spinach and Kiwi contains 7.5g of fibre which is quite a lot. In fact, it’s around the equivalent of eating two extra portions of fruit / veg each day so could be helpful.

Are you on a low fibre diet?

Start adding these prebiotic drinks very slowly if you are currently low in fibre. This will help you to avoid bloating. It’s also important to keep up your hydration as you add fibre to avoid constipation.

Join my Group Gut Reset for IBS

Gut shots aren’t really worth it

My thoughts on the gut shot trend: 

  • Just because you’re drinking a daily gut shot doesn’t mean you can forget about the basics (e.g. eating wholegrains, getting your 5 a day, etc!).
  • One food or drink won’t make or break your digestion or overall wellbeing. These kind of products shouldn’t be seen as more than a ‘nice to have’ addition. Your overall diet is much more important than these products.
  • Adding in beneficial bacteria, (probiotics) is more effective when taken in capsule form. This is because good probiotics have been formulated to survive the stomach acid, and reach the intestines where they have their effect. You also know how much of the microbes are expected to be in each capsule with the probiotic supplement.

In summary

I wouldn’t recommend this trend to incorporate a gut shot to most of my clients due to the cost.

Also, there are more effective ways to increase your gut bacteria (see below for my tips). However, I don’t see any harm to health for most people if they enjoy them.

Glass containing some orangey yellow liquid and a sprig of rosemary. The background is a white wall with sunlight in the coner.

Supporting your gut health

Here are some digestion and wellbeing tips that don’t rely on shots.

Aim to eat 30 different types of fibre per week

There is evidence this helps build a diverse gut microbiome. Foods you can count in the 30 include all fruits, veg, pulses and legumes, grains (e.g. rice, oats, wheat, spelt), nuts and seeds. Start by counting how many different fibres you have and increase slowly from there.

Start increasing your fibre intake slowly

We should all aim to include between 25-30g of fibre a day. Most people in the UK are only eating around 19g of fibre per day.

  • Just one extra portion of fruit or veg a day will contribute to this target.
  • Add nuts and seeds to your food.
  • Eat more pulses and beans.
  • A portion of veg/fruit is around 80g per veg.

Look after the gut-brain connection

We have a strong connection between the gut and the brain, the vagus nerve. Read more about the vagus nerve in my post. When we’re stressed over time it can lead to issues with digestion. To help engage your vagus nerve practice deep breathing, yoga, and walking.

Prioritise your sleep

Getting enough sleep can improve your gut! Give yourself the opportunity to get 8 hours by going to bed on time. Focus on calm evening routine involving stretching, writing in a journal or listening to some calming music.

Get outside every day

Exposure to the natural world help diversify the gut microbiome. Stroke a pet. Do the gardening.

Daily movement helps create a healthy gut

People who exercise regularly have a more diverse set of gut bacteria. Although we don’t yet have a blueprint for a healthy gut, we can see some associations with certain strains and immunity, healthy heart, or even brain function. People who regularly move their body often have bacterial strains associated with better overall wellbeing.

I can help with your IBS diet

If you want help figuring out your IBS triggers, start your Gut Reset with me over 3 months to find a diet that works for you.

Just set up a free call to discuss what you need some help with. Email info@goodnessme-nutrition.com

IBS Nutritionist

Hi, I'm Anna Mapson, registered Nutritional Therapist.

I help people with IBS and SIBO get control of unpredictable gut symptoms to find long term relief from painful and embarrassing IBS without restrictive dieting.

I can help you to:

  • understand your digestion better, so you recognise your triggers
  • eat a well balanced diet, with tasty meals that are simple to prepare
  • reintroduce your trigger foods so you can get back to enjoying food again

Find more about my 3 month 1:1 Gut Reset programme. 

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