How’s your gut? Are you a sufferer of common digestive complaints, such as constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn and bloating? Our gastrointestinal tracts work hard to keep us healthy and happy. Bacteria in your gut may sound like a bad thing, however the gut needs helpful bacteria -namely “probiotics” to process food into energy and for proper digestion. An imbalance of these bacteria, can cause these several digestive complications and other conditions, including:
- Abdominal pain and cramping
- Autoimmune diseases, such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and diabetes
- Neuromuscular diseases
If you suffer from any of these, it’s time to get your gut health back on track. Below we will discuss many lifestyle and diet tips that will promote your gut health and general well-being. The gut is central to our health, immunity and connected to many vital organs. Poor digestive health can compromise the immune system and cause inflammation in the body. It is important to have the right balance of bacteria in the gut to keep a strong immune system, eliminate waste well, and have good digestive functioning. A healthy gut will work well to eliminate dangerous toxins and to metabolize essential nutrients.
Firstly, we will begin by discussing and explaining specific terms in relation to gut health. Bacteria can be classified as either harmful or helpful, we don’t have a permanent supply of these helpful bacteria, therefore stores need to be continually replenished through the diet. Our gut bacteria vary depending on our age, gender, diet, lifestyle, stress and medication use. Beneficial gut bacteria help manufacture vitamins (B12, K, B6, B5, B3, folate and biotin), enhance absorption of minerals, fight off pathogens, digest food, and break down drugs, overall influencing total body metabolism.
What are probiotics?
Probiotics are often described as “good” or “friendly” bacteria, which are usually added to yoghurts or taken as food supplements. They are thought to help restore the natural balance of bacteria in your gut (including your stomach and intestines) when it’s been disrupted by an illness or treatment. Some of the main food sources of probiotics, include yogurt, sauerkraut, miso soup and pickles. Choose 1-2 probiotic/prebiotic rich foods/drinks and consume them regularly.
What are prebiotics?
Prebiotics are the non-digestible carbohydrates that stimulate growth and activity of bacteria in our digestive systems. Prebiotics are found naturally in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, radish, asparagus, and whole grains- these prebiotics usually feed the probiotics or bacteria.
- Incorporate fermented foods into the diet
Fermented foods can introduce good bacteria to your gut but know that it’s better to make your own. Store-bought options are usually pasteurised, which kills good bacteria. Some of the best fermented foods for promoting gut health, including Sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, kimchi, soy sauce, tempeh, fermented tofu and kombucha.
- Avoid triggers, such as eating refined sugars
There are several reasons to reduce the amount of sugar and unhealthy fats within the diet. Firstly, they are thought to encourage the growth of harmful bacteria within the gut. High levels of sugars within the diet show evidence to slow down food transit time in the gut, causing bloating and constipation. If you notice symptoms of Irritable bowel syndrome, this shows signs that your body may not process short-chain carbohydrates and sugars that some guts find quite difficult to digest – and one of them, you guessed it, is fructose. Get checked by a health professional.
- Increase fibre intake
Eating enough fibre may play a significant role in gut health. Fibre resists digestion in the small intestine, then makes its way to the large intestine and ferments, creating short chain fatty acids, an important source of fuel for the body.
Fibre also adds bulk and improves regularity, reducing our exposure to potentially dangerous compounds. Finally, the breakdown of fibre regulates pH balance, promoting the optimal environment for beneficial bacteria. Aim for at least 3 servings of a whole-wheat or whole-grain food per day. Fruits, vegetables and salads are packed with fibre as well.
- Avoid overuse of antibiotics
Antibiotics disturb the balance of balance in the gut, some bacteria in the human gut make vitamins such as vitamin K and some of the B vitamins. If they are destroyed, the body does not receive these vitamins and, if antibiotic therapy continues over an extended period, vitamin deficiency can result. Also, the body’s ability to ferment carbohydrates is reduced and may cause antibiotic-associated diarrhoea.
- Regular exercise
When you exercise your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These correspond with the receptors in the brain that reduce perception of pain. This triggers a natural positive feeling; the brain then tells the second brain ‘the gut’ that it feels happy and less anxious allowing it to work better. When these endorphins are released after exercise, naturally we want to stay in this positive vibe, so we choose healthier food options to keep our bodies feeling good. And it’s a given that when we choose real food that our gut can relate to like fresh veg, fruit, nuts, seeds, pulses, and so on, our gut is certainly going to thank us for it. Remember that excessive exercise can lead to poor gut health. Avoid big meals before exercise.
So, get outside and be active every day and run or cycle or walk fast and see your gut becoming your friend.
- Reduce stress levels
Sleep, stress management (e.g., meditation, yoga) and exercise are necessary for renewal of the body and controlling inflammation. Cortisol, sometimes referred to as “the stress hormone” also plays a part in how your body metabolizes fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Managing your stress levels also help to reduce inflammation which is important to improving digestive health.
TAKE HOME MESSAGES
- Keep an eye on symptoms
Not the most appealing way, but one of the most best and easiest ways to check your gut health is to have examine your faeces before you flush. Red colour can indicate blood in the lower gastrointestinal tract, which could be a sign of colorectal cancer, Crohns disease, ulcerative colitis or haemorrhoids. Black can point to upper- gastrointestinal tract bleeding, such as stomach ulcers. Firm faeces are normal, hard could mean dehydration or constipation and no shape may indicate diarrhoea. If your symptoms continue or you spot anything worrying, it is advised to see a specialist.
- Plan ahead for good eating
Meal prepping will be key in making sure you are intentional and consistent as you eat your way to better health. Some of our worst decisions are made when we are tired and hungry. So, be prepared and plan ahead!
- Heal your gut
Take a high-quality probiotic at least twice a day while trying to heal your gut and increase the intake of prebiotic foods. Prebiotic foods help the good bacteria that already resides in your system to thrive. Prebiotics can be foods, or in cases where you want to really boost the repair process, there are also supplements that can be taken in pill form.
- Eat a wide variety of Foods
This is crucial as you will then build up a vast array of different bacteria to fight infection and strengthen your immune system. Eating a wide variety of foods really helps us build a resistance to allergies as well.
The importance of maintaining a healthy gut flora as it is known, is crucial for health. The gastrointestinal tract contains over 75% of our immune cells! So keeping them in check will really determine how healthy we are. For more tips and information, please feel free to contact us on [email protected]