Gut health has become a bit of a buzz word in recent years with lots of confusing information online and in the media. There are plenty of supplements and advice around what foods to eat and what to avoid, but how can we distinguish between the accurate information and the nonsense?
Here are my 5 top tips for a healthy gut, without the expensive price tag!
Firstly, what is gut health?
Gut health covers a range of different things such as normal digestion and absorption of food, the absence of gastrointestinal disease, a normal and stable gut microbiota, effective immune status and a state of wellbeing. Interestingly, it is now evident that having a healthy gut can have several benefits to our overall health, including not only our digestion but potentially even our heart and mental health. (Gubert et al. 2020) These effects are likely due to our gut microbiota. Our what? I hear you say?. Our gut microbiota simply refers to the collective ecosystem of bacteria, fungi and yeasts which reside in the gut (Gubert et al. 2020).
These guys have a huge impact on our health such as the production of important vitamins, neurotransmitters like serotonin (our happy hormone!) as well as having a role in balancing blood sugar levels, mood regulation and training our immune system. Looking after these guys can really benefit our health (Hijová et al. 2019). Some tips to promote a healthy gut microbiome include:
1. Fibre: It was previously thought that fibre in foods just ‘passed through’ undigested. This is true to a point, but a particular type of fibre known as prebiotics actually feeds our gut microbiota allowing it to grow and thrive and keeping us healthy. These prebiotic fibres can be found in foods such as onions, garlic, apricots, leeks, dates and many more. These can also be found in supplement form but getting them from food also gives you access to other important vitamins and minerals, while also cutting the price tag (Hijová et al. 2019).
2. Variety in the diet: Our gut and our gut microbiota love variety. The more varied the diet, the more access these guys have to different types of food and fibre which allows them to grow, populate our gut and thrive. It can be easy to stick to the same foods each week but why not try to change things up a little. Instead of looking at what to cut out of the diet, why not explore what you can add in? I love to try new vegetables, fruit and bread each week which can really make food exciting (Hijová et al. 2019).
3. Water: We’ve already spoken about fibre, but water is another important component when it comes to gut health. Water helps to bulk out the undigested fibre, helping to keep things moving through the digestive tract. This can be really helpful in the case of bloating or constipation as well as helping us feel fuller for longer (NHS 2019).
4. Movement: Movement is key for gut health and is helpful in two ways. Firstly, those who exercise appear to have a more diverse and healthy gut microbiome, which is always a plus! Secondly, movement helps to stimulate the movement of gut muscles, keeping things moving through at a normal pace again, helping to prevent bloating and constipation (Gubert et al. 2020).
5. Stress management: This is a big one and one that is often overlooked. Life is busy and hectic, and it can be hard to avoid stress these days. Our gut and brain are linked through the gut-brain axis, which acts like a two-way street where both the gut sends messages to the brain (fullness, hunger etc.) and the brain sends messages to the gut (emotional states, information about food etc.).
Basically, a stressed brain often means a stressed gut and vice versa. Stress can result in both uncomfortable gut symptoms (bloating, pain, diarrhoea) as well as shifting our gut microbiome out of balance. Finding ways to manage the stress that work for you is key (Gubert et al. 2020). So, there you have it, as well as diet, there are many lifestyle factors which can affect the health of our gut. Maintaining a healthy gut doesn’t have to be expensive and can be easily done through a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle.
This piece was written by Sarah Hawkins BSc, ANutr. Sarah works one to one with a range of clients, mainly in the field of gut health, IBS and improving our relationship with food. Sarah takes a non-judgemental approach and aims to empower clients with the tools they need for optimal health which fits in with their own personal lifestyle. You can book Sarah's expertise here.
https://cejph.szu.cz/pdfs/cjp/2019/03/14.pdf https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0969996119302967?via%3Dihub https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/good-foods-to-help-your-digestion/