Dr. Megan Rossi popularly known as The Gut Health Doctor is an internationally renowned registered dietitian and nutritionist with a Ph.D. in gut health. Her Ph.D. was recognized for its contribution to science, receiving the Dean’s Award for outstanding research. Megan founded her brand The Gut Health Doctor to make evidence-based science advice more accessible to the public and to improve gut health. She also set up The Gut Health Clinic in London, where she leads a team of gut-specialist dietitians. We spoke with her about the secrets of keeping good gut health, how our gut health and diet are connected, and how plant-based eating can contribute to this. The interview is part of our focus topic "Nutrition, Mind, and Well-Being," which we will continue to explore until the end of February 2022.
Megan, your recent new book “Eat more, Live more” is all about plant-based eating. How does plant-based eating benefit gut health?
Eat More, Live Well is all about showing you how versatile plant-based eating actually is, based on facts, not fads. It’s about going plant-based, not necessarily plant-only. Forget cutting out or cutting down, I show how – and why – increasing the number and range of plant foods you eat taps into the very latest scientific discoveries about how your body and gut microbes work best. That’s right, eating more plant foods can improve your health, and my recipes and menu plans show just how easy and delicious it really is.
I was compelled to write this book following my first book, Eat Yourself Healthy because there are so many myths surrounding plant-based eating and gut health. I wanted to spread the science beyond the research bubble and help as many people as possible to embrace the far-reaching benefits of nourishing their gut microbiota.
How did you get involved in gut health? Can you talk more about microbiota science for those who are unfamiliar?
After losing my grandma to bowel cancer, and so many of my patients complaining of the gut, in 2010 I decided to embark on a Ph.D. in gut health. Specifically looking at whether we nourish the gut through the right nutrition, whether that can improve the health of other organs such as the kidneys and heart. My Ph.D. results changed everything for me, it became strikingly clear that by nourishing the gut microbes, I could help people improve their lives in very real and often surprising ways. Your gut microbiota, or what I call your GM, is the collective name for your gut microbes – the trillions of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites, that live along your nine-meter digestive tract. And they can’t get enough of this plant goodness. Your GM isn’t just important for healthy digestion; it also, as research is showing, affects pretty much all aspects of your health, from your immunity to your skin and even your brain function.
" The trillions of gut microorganisms of our nine-meter digestive tract are important for healthy digestion; they are equally important for our immunity, skin, and our brain function."
Dr. Megan Rossi
How can gut health and diet boost our mood? Are prebiotic and probiotic supplements helpful?
The gut: brain axis, which is the two-way connection that occurs between the gut and brain, is a truly fascinating area, and once I delve into my book Eat More, Live Well. We now have pretty convincing evidence that how we feed and treat our GM can have measurable impacts on your mental health. In fact, one of the prominent studies, The SMILES trial, showed that following a plant-based (not plants only) diet, full of plant diversity and offering 50g of fiber per day (most people eat less than 20g), significantly improved the participants' mental health. The thing about fiber is that it is essentially food for our good gut bacteria.
Some of Dr. Megan Rossi's Books
Gut health and poor digestion are becoming increasingly common: Why is the topic of gut health important to the future of our society? Where do you hope microbiome work will be in 10 years?
Our GM is a landmark scientific discovery that is changing how we prevent, manage and treat chronic conditions. Given as many as six in ten of us are living with a chronic disease (like heart disease, mental health conditions, metabolism issues), and four in ten have two or more, we need to take action. And science shows that targeting our GM with a fiber-filled plant-based diversity is the way to do just that. Personalized nutrition, based on our gut microbiome, is a really exciting area of research that many groups, including my team at King’s College London, are currently investigating. Although far from ready to be translated into practice, in 10 years I hope the research will be ready for real-world use.
You started as a registered dietitian, then leading research fellow at King’s College London. Today you are leading a team of gut-specialist dietitians at The Gut Health Clinic in London and translating science as influencer and author for many consumers. What are you passionate about in doing what you do?
My passion to translate the science is really fuelled by the injustice, that despite all of the exciting research, it’s the fad and potentially dangerous messages that are being force-fed to the public.
You are also co-founder of the functional food brand Bio & Me selling granolas, porridges, and Live yogurts, both online in supermarkets. What is Bio & Me doing differently than other müsli brands? What was the biggest challenge you faced when developing this idea into a successful business?
As a dietitian, I know that education is just half the battle. If you don’t have convenient foods available for people, that are good for the gut, people aren’t going to make the changes and therefore they won’t experience the true power and potential of nourishing their gut. This is why I started working in the food industry, and after not being able to convince any of the big brands to change their ingredients to better align with gut health science, I decided to start my own! Thankfully I met my co-founder, Jon Walsh, who was ex-Nestlé, so had all the big business experience to launch a successful brand. I most definitely couldn’t have done it without him! The hardest part is ingredient sourcing, I am very strict on quality, I won’t compromise!
What is the role of nutrition experts in gut health in the future? What does the field need?
I believe that it is important that nutrition experts lead in the food industry. There is a scary number of food companies that have never consulted a nutrition expert, despite making some pretty outlandish health claims about their products (most of which breach ESFA regulations). We need to get involved, and help change the face of the food industry- food should not only taste good but do good too!
" There is a scary number of food companies that have never consulted a nutrition expert despite making some pretty outlandish health claims about their products"
Dr. Megan Rossi
Do you have a favorite article or book that every nutrition expert should read? What have been your go-to resources to learn more about this area?
Pubmed! The gut health science is moving at such a pace, I find PubMed is the only really updated read.
If you’d like to find out more about Megan or her work, you can connect and network with her via LinkedIn or via her website. This interview was conducted in writing by our Deep Dive curator Bastienne Neumann.