Gut health has been a buzz word in wellness circles for a while. But what does it mean to have good gut health? And how can you improve your own gut health and how does it link to immune health.
“Gut health” goes way beyond a diverse gut microbiome. Good gut health may mean the absence of persistent digestive symptoms (such as heartburn, bloating and constipation) and having regular, painless bowel movements. However, having no digestive symptoms does not necessary mean that your gut is healthy. Many gut-linked health issues manifest in symptoms that seemingly have nothing to do with digestion. Would you think that headaches, joint pain, eczema, brain fog and mood swings may be connected to your gut? Yet, there is a strong link between gut health and these symptoms. Moreover, we now know that poor gut health may contribute to chronic diseases, autoimmune conditions and certain cancers.
Gut health is absolutely fundamental to your overall wellbeing and there are scientifically proven ways to support it.
Practice mindfulness around mealtimes
Our digestion starts from the moment we think about, see and smell food. Between 30%-50% of stomach acid is produced before we even take a mouthful! Sitting down for your meal without any distractions, such as phones and screens, smelling and enjoying the sight of your food would help to kick start the production of digestive juices. This step is particularly important if you suffer from heartburn, reflux and bloating.
Chew each mouthful to a baby-meal consistency
Chewing your food properly is an extremely effective way to support your digestion. During the process of chewing we are not only mechanically breaking the food down; we are also chemically digesting it with the help of enzymes contained in saliva. Swallowing our food without sufficient chewing would mean that we are skipping this important step and relying on other enzymes (from stomach, pancreas and intestines) to pick up the slack. Poor chewing habits contribute to a number of symptoms, anything from “heavy feeling” in the stomach to constipation and bloating.
Use stress management techniques
Both physical and emotional stress causes the release of a stress hormone cortisol. In the event of chronic stress, the levels of cortisol remain elevated leading to multiple negative effects on our gut health:
- Suppression of digestive juices production.
- Reduction in diversity of our gut microbiome.
- Weakening of a gut lining allowing toxins into the blood stream.
- Higher levels of inflammation in the gut.
Finding stress management tools that work for you is crucial if you are looking to improve your gut health. Deep breathing practice, meditation, exercise, walks in nature, creative activities and journaling – all have been shown to support your stress resilience.
Focus on having a variety of plant foods
Diversity of our gut microbes is the key to a healthy and balanced microbiome. Aim to include at least 30 different plant sources per week. Having a varied and plant-rich diet ensures that we are “feeding” gut microbes and supporting their health promoting activities.
If you are looking to include more variety into your diet, you can try:
- Choosing differently coloured produce to what you are usually eating. For example, if you always buy red peppers, try yellow, orange and green, instead.
- Trying not to eat the same type of grains and vegetables more than 2-3 times per week.
- Including spices in your meals, which are not only making your meals more flavoursome, but will also feed gut microbes.
Ensure that you are having at least 30g of fibre daily
Fibre is one of the most important nutrients for our gut health. It supports healthy bowel movements, balances blood sugar, regulates cholesterol and provides energy to our gut microbes. Whole foods such as vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and fruits are rich in fibre. Aim to have 5-10 portions of these foods daily for optimal gut health. A portion size is approximately a handful.
- My favourite tips for increasing your fibre are:
- Adding 1tbsp of ground flaxseeds daily to your yogurt, smoothie, porridge or pancakes.
- Keeping skins on your root vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, carrots, beetroots.
- Keeping a jar with mixed seeds on a table and adding 1tbsp of mixed seeds to your soups, salads or vegetables dishes.
Introduce fermented foods into your diet
Fermented foods could be considered as “natural probiotics”, as they contain microbes, such as lactic bacteria, with health promoting properties. Try having fermented foods regularly, starting from 2-3 times per week. Choose from the likes of kefir, yogurt, blue cheese, kombucha, miso, soy sauce, tempeh, natto, sauerkraut and kimchi. It is a good idea to vary your fermented foods as well.
Moving your body regularly
Regular exercise or just being active throughout a day is important for supporting your digestion. Physical activity improves the blood flow and helps with peristalsis, which is a muscular movement of the gut pushing the food forward. Moreover, being physically active was shown to be beneficial to our gut microbes too.
If you spend the majority of your day sitting down, then stretching or an active break every 30 minutes may help with digestion and your stress levels.
Written by Thrive Expert – Elena Letyagina – Elena holds a Nutritional Therapy Diploma (DipION) from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and is working towards BSc (Hons) Nutritional Therapy degree from the ION. Find out more from: www.gutphilosophy.com