How our appetite for gut health changed lifestyle choices & behaviors
Across the spheres of medicine, wellness, culture & more, there has been a perceptual shift around gut health.
We’ve already covered gut health’s move into the mainstream, and the increasingly open and informed perspectives around it. But what does that mounting awareness and interest mean in term of consumer preferences, product affinities, and lifestyle choices?
In part two of our deep-dive into gut health, we will be covering:
- The diets & food types most closely identified with good gut health
- The most talked-about food chain restaurants, retailers and products in this conversation
- Probiotics and prebiotics – and the differing audience for each
- Gut health’s alignment with other facets of healthy living, including exercise & skin health
Using Pulsar TRAC, we analyzed over 600k posts from news, search data, forum and social data from Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and TikTok (among other sources) between Feb 15th and June 14th 2021. As before, we were joined in this by Kim Townend, a Pulsar poweruser and social strategist.
Which dietary changes are linked to good gut health?
Gut health is all about digestion. And so, changing what you put into your body is one of the most simple and comprehensive ways of improving it.
By analyzing which popular diets were mentioned alongside gut-health-tangential topics, we can visualize the popularity of different lifestyle choices within the space.
Where chronic conditions are involved, individuals opt to switch diets to alleviate symptoms. Often, however, gut health is taken as one reason among many to make a lifestyle change.
Whelp, I finally did it. I went vegan. A bit for ethical reasons but mostly for gut, brain, and heart health This is end of week one. Yay me! My gut is having a bit of a tough time adjusting, but I think (I hope) it will calm down. Any sage words of wisdom are welcome
— Terri Kopp (@TerriKopp2it) February 22, 2021
Despite the FODMAP diet being tailored specifically towards irritable bowel sufferers, it’s therefore the more general-interest diets such as veganism that emerge as more popular.
If analyzing diets offers a macro view on gut health food trends, then honing in on the individual foods helps pinpoint the shop-bought items that have become most identifiable with a happy microbiome.
Clearly, ferment reigns supreme.
Start taking care of your health while you are still young. Yogurt, probiotics, and kombucha are all part of my daily diet (cause I’m old 😂), but they do help keep your gut balanced.
— Zialisa (@Zialisa2) June 14, 2021
An honorable mention, however, for whole foods – particularly the likes of greens, legumes and various fruits. Teas and oils round out the selection, while – conversely – sweeteners are one of the most-cited causes of bad gut health.
The biggest gut health brands
While gut health has long existed as a concern (and even longer as a fact of life), the subject’s move into the mainstream has seen a number of different retailers compete to become the go-to source of gut health products. So who sits front of mind, the next time someone realizes they’re short on sauerkraut or practically out of probiotics?
Amazon’s share of voice dominance – which is even greater when second-placed, and Amazon-owned, Whole Foods is factored in – stems in part from the variety of products it sells. So while probiotics & supplements make up a large percentage of conversation, there are also books, and numerous other types of paraphernalia that signify the new culture of openness that has formed around gut health.
I just found a shirt on Amazon that’s the blue lives matter flag but about irritable bowel syndrome and I’m actually literally weeping pic.twitter.com/A417qn17X7
— Katie Notopoulos (@katienotopoulos) June 8, 2021
Equally, we might shift focus away from resellers, and onto the brands that produce gut-health specific products.
And when we do this, a clear trend emerges. Individuals who find a product that works display loyalty towards it, and even advocate for it.
Some of the most engaged-with posts about Align are paid-for influencer posts but these are outnumbered by mentions on online forums, both as a ‘Success Story’, and otherwise.
While paid partnerships, which leverage recognisability, occur on Instagram, testimonies tend to appear within forums on account of the subject’s sensitivity, and the spaces’ anonymity.
Beyond seeking out specialist products, individuals also want to know whether established fast food restaurants can have a detrimental effect on gut health.
There are an eye-watering number of different, extremely graphic, ways in which individuals portray negative experiences at fast food outlets (which we’re going to sidestep here). But these humorous takes often contain genuine recommendations, both on which restaurants to avoid, and which are ‘actually’ harmless.
This particular part of the wider conversation is couched more in negative intentionality, and which restaurants to avoid, but it contains within it numerous instances of genuine advocacy:
I've had gut issues all my life, and I've *never* had an issue with Taco Bell. https://t.co/1EffBxgKUq
— Katie Dobruse (@dobrusek) June 8, 2021
Probiotics v Prebiotics, and the flow of information
From which diet to follow, to where to eat out, there’s a colossal amount of information on the gut, and it’s disseminated in a variety of different ways.
Within that, of course, different topics are associated with different sources, and are spoken about very differently.
Take prebiotics, for example. These appear within types of carbohydrate that your body can’t digest, and are eaten instead by the beneficial bacteria within your gut. As understanding of our body’s digestive processes becomes increasingly in-depth, prebiotics are spoken about more and more.
And, for the most part, cited prebiotic information sources are split between 3 distinct categories: online video, podcasts or magazine articles.
In addition to this, we we can also see how mentions fo prebiotics are split across platforms. Instagram overindexes, coming a close second to Twitter, while we also see the term make an appearance everywhere from Subreddits to YouTube comments sections
Given the topic’s appearance across a variety of different sources, how do prebiotics compare to the more established probiotics?
… still a lot of ground to make up – and that’s reflected in the different audience maps for the two topics. While probiotics have crossed over into the mainstream, prebiotics are still largely the preserve of more niche interest groups.
Within the far larger probiotic conversation, we see segments such as US Hip Hop Fans, a predominately young, female community who display strong affinity for women either within or tangential to the US Hip Hop scene. They play an important role in projecting wellness content around online spaces, mass retweeting posts such as:
about 90% of serotonin and 50% of dopamine is created in the gut. our gut health directly affects our mood and our behavior.
— holistic mami✨ (@LeArielleSimone) June 14, 2021
This group sits alongside Moms who Blog & Shop, who exhibit a strong affinity for the Hallmark Channel. They follow accounts such as Kohls & Walmart and regularly interact with ads and product showcases, in addition to various influencer platforms (such as SheSpeaks) that they use to grow their networks.
On the other hand, the Prebiotic conversation is engaged with by the likes of Microbiome Deep-Divers, who follow academics with research centred on gastroenterology, as well as the Mature Alt-Living Crowd, who regularly share scientific findings on gut health (and, incidentally, have a pronounced fondness for America’s Most Haunted).
Gut Health within wider healthy living conversation
Despite accounting for more and more conversation in their own right, gut health, the microbiome and probiotics don’t exist in a vacuum, but rather make up part of the total health conversation.
Consequently, its mentioned increasingly alongside other aspects of that conversation.
The link between skin health and the gut, for instance, is well established.
And, using the probiotics audience segments, we can see how these different topics combine in the thoughts and behaviors of US Pop Fans:
I’m on probiotics now … my dermatologist said that I had inflammation acne and put me on two other meds that are not working either
— pb. 👑 (@_Lilahhh) June 4, 2021
And Alt-Living Businesspeople:
Lol. Ty!!! Everyone always asks how… it's literally cellulite filing them wrinkles in. ;). I do take really good care of my skin though. I have an ice roller I use every night. Various moisturizers… Probiotic skin wash…and I take LOTS of vitamins.
— Jazzy (@JazzyTexasChick) June 4, 2021
At the same time, physical activities are regularly mentioned in conjunction with gut health.
A certain amount of this conversation centres on the negative impact chronic conditions can have on living a life full of physical activity. But if we isolate positive syntax that make reference to alleviation and benefits, then we see running emerge as the most-mentioned activity.
This incorporates every instance of exercise being cited as good for gut health, as well as the other way round. It also brings in all the numerous occasions in which good gut health and good physical health are mentioned as two complimentary factors within a well-rounded lifestyle.
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In short, there’s nothing small about the microbiome, and nothing to suggest that gut health is going to become more central still to our perspectives, behavior and decision-making going forward.
If you haven’t already, you can also explore the first blog in this series, which covers the new culture of openness around gut health, how conditions & symptoms are experienced, and the rise of the microbiome as a topic.
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