An Interview with Monique Piderit: The gut health expert

Monique Piderit is a registered dietitian with a practice in Bryanston, Johannesburg. She has been practicing for 8 years. She is always learning and is currently completing her PhD.

Food Lover’s Market reached out to her as an expert and a dietitian very interested in gut health. We saw gut health among the food trends for 2018 and again in 2019. It definitely seems like it’s here to stay, so we wanted to share with you, our customers.

1. Why are you so passionate about gut health?

Monique: Super question to start. From my perspective the gut is huge so it’s potential to alter one’s health positively is also huge! Due to the size of it, even the smallest dietary change can have a big impact. So if you make it a focus, you are bound to see good results.

Here are some stats to put into perspective how “huge” the gut is:

  1. There are 10 times more bacteria in the gut than there are cells in the entire body!
  2. 65% of the immune system is located in the gut.
  3. 40 trillion micro-organisms can be present in the gut.
  4. The total weight of all the micro-organisms in the gut is 200 grams.
  5. There are 40 000 different species in of microorganisms present in the gut.

2. Wow, that really makes one think twice! So, what is gut health and why is it becoming so well known?

Simply put; gut health is optimizing your digestive system. The digestive and intestinal tract is home to micro organisms (40 000 species of them!). Collectively, all these microorganisms are called the gut microbiota. Each of these microorganisms is so diverse, all having a different role to play and they are so good for us! Basically, these microorganisms are the good guys! But like in any town or village, there are bad guys too, and sometimes the bad guys can overrun the town – due to reasons like stress or eating. This is known as dysbiosis: An imbalance of the good and bad. If you read more into gut health, you will come across the word ‘dysbiosis’ often.

Why is gut-health becoming so well known or “trendy”?

From an academic point of view, the research coming out about the gut is a lot more prominent. Previously all we had was about constipation or diarrhoea, now, research says that the gut and the brain are linked. This is big news, in fact, researchers are going as far as to say that the gut is the second brain! There is emerging evidence that shows a list of illnesses and diseases that could be linked to the gut such as depression, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, bipolar mood disorder, and more.

3. Is this a ‘new’ problem due to our diets or something scientist have only recently discovered?

“Yes, for sure – both! We live in a westernized era of poor diet and high stress which definitely has an impact on our gut health.
When I qualified as a dietitian, we learned about irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Celiac disease, but nothing about the link between the gut and the brain.
So yes, as I touched on above, the research is growing exponentially. When we discover one thing, it leads to another.

Scientists have even found differences in the gut of babies born via natural birth or c-section. In natural birth, they get more exposure to mom’s good bacteria when passing through the birth canal compared to the sterile environment of a C-section. Although we live in harmony with bacteria our entire lives, it is now believed that our gut bacteria is colonized in the first 3 years of our lives and it is a crucial period to make sure baby is getting the right bacteria. It is incredibly interesting.”

4. Probiotic and Prebiotic – what is that all about?

Allow me to break down the word a little: pro means positive and biotic is bacteria – so it’s good (or positive bacteria). These are live microorganisms and, in good amounts, they offer health benefits to the body. There are supplements available over the counter and they have some potential to help your gut but you still need a good diet. When good bacteria are present in food like yoghurt, then it is called live cultures, not probiotics.
You might be given a probiotic when you are on antibiotics. Antibiotics can’t tell the difference between the good and bad bacteria, so it wipes it all out. We take probiotics to put it back. I also recommend probiotics or foods high in live cultures following a colonoscopy.
Prebiotic: This is food for the probiotic. It is food that will promote the growth of good bacteria, and stimulate the gut.

Take a look at our list of super tasty probiotic and prebiotic combos like bananas and yoghurt, compiled by the Food Lover’s digital team.

Going back to the village of good guys and bad guys; you definitely want more good guys and not to allow the village to get run over by bad guys, so you have to keep them in check. Fibre and other prebiotics are like armouring the good guys.

5. How do I know if my gut is ‘not so healthy’?

That is a tough one to answer, it could be as simple as an upset tummy but now we are seeing many more symptoms. If you are overweight, and you’ve tried a lot of things without seeing results it could be linked to your gut health. Possibly you are experiencing mood swings. Serotonin – a neurotransmitter which contributes wellbeing and made in the gut – so that affects your mood.

There are many, many links but what we do know is everything is in contact with your gut, so if your diet is not healthy, then chances are, your gut isn’t either.

6. Many people suffer from Candida – what is it and do we know what causes it? Is it related to having a healthy or unhealthy gut?

We’ve got both good and bad in your gut. And we also have a type of yeast, most people have a small amount, this yeast is called Candida. Candida can flourish and grow excessively, sometimes through medication, illness, poor diet, immune deficiency diseases or uncontrolled diabetes. Any of these factors can interrupt the delicate balance. In excess, candida causes thrush, a swelling and irritation. It can be found in the mouth and throat, and in severe cases, even cause pain when eating.

First and foremost, you need to speak to your doctor about medication. And then, from a nutrition point of view, avoid high levels of sugar and refined starches. You need to be on the lookout, as sugar can be present in many places besides your cup of coffee or tea such as sugary ice teas, sugary cereal, chocolate, puddings or even pastries. Sugar is a food source for the candida.

Since it is a yeast infection, it may help to limit yeast and yeast containing food such as bread and spread like Marmite or Oxo. I had a patient that suffered from Candida, her main trigger was stress.

7. So, if I could do just ONE THING to make a significant improvement to my gut health, what should it be?

A healthy diet. A healthy diet is paramount to creating a healthy environment for all the good bacteria. An increased intake of healthy bacteria, which can be found in old-fashioned easy to find foods such as yoghurt and maas. These foods have been part of our diet for years, so you can easily get in both your daily servings of dairy every day (aim for 2 – 3 servings) as well as healthy gut bacteria.

It’s not all about kefir or sauerkraut – we can keep it simple. Secondary to that is the prebiotics, especially fibre, found in fresh fruit, veg and legumes as well as wholegrain starches.



We enjoyed speaking to Monique, from Nutritional Solutions. If you would like to chat with her further, she can be reached on:

Facebook: @NutritionalSolutionssa
Instagram: @nutritionalsolutionssa (Monique really recommends you check this one out!)
Twitter: @MoniquePiderit

Look out for more great tips from Food Lover’s Market and Monique in days to come.

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