Nutrition and the health of the human body is an ever-changing mine field that at times can prove really tricky to navigate as we try our best to live the healthiest lifestyle possible.
The term ‘gut health’ seems to be banded around often these days, whether it be the latest ‘must eat’ yogurt, or from health experts through the media. Whilst, of course, we would all love to possess a healthy gut, what does this actually mean? What impact does it have on our overall health? And, perhaps most importantly, how can it be achieved?
In the simplest terms, our gut is made up of ‘good bacteria’; our gut flora. This is made up of over 100 trillion (yes, you read that correctly!) microorganisms that help to promote normal gastrointestinal function through providing protection from infection, metabolism regulation, and attributes to 75% of our immune system. It’s no wonder that the moment our babies emerge mewling from the womb, health professionals encourage breast feeding in order to preserve and develop this magic bacteria from the word go - nor is it a surprise that the health world seem to have changed their view on antibiotics as research has now shown it may take up to 12 months to replenish the good bacteria following just one course. Pretty counter-productive when you consider the role the gut plays in warding off infection, don’t you think? The modern lifestyle we now live sadly further contributes detrimentally to that lovely gut flora we need: faddy diets, dietary toxins found in wheat and seed oils and chronic stress all contribute to the depletion of the good bacteria in our digestive system.
So what can we do to make ourselves ‘gut gorgeous’ and ready for anything?
1. Out with the Offenders
Experts say that before you can start to repair, rebuild and maintain a healthy gut, we must first rule out any common ‘offenders’ in our diets that many people have trouble digesting: gluten, eggs, yeast, dairy, corn, peanuts and even grains. We are all different and the foods that affect us can change from person to person. Food intolerance tests are a great way to easily find out which foods may be affecting you. So.. does this mean we need to give up our favourite cereal and kick cake to the curb? No. It simply means that these are the first ‘go to’ offending food items to explore should you think your symptoms are food related.
2. Heaps of the Healthy Stuff!
Now that we’ve ditched the potentially harmful foods in our diet, it’s time to replenish with the good stuff. Fill your boots with fresh fruits and vegetables, leafy greens and gluten free grains. Stock up on healthy fats such as avocado, chia, flax and hemp seeds and if you’ve got a sweet tooth, reach for natural sources, stevia or maple syrup, for example. All of these promote good digestion and are gentle on that sensitive tummy.
3. Grow the Good Bacteria
It is a common misconception that we ‘need’ dairy in order to build a healthy digestive system. Yes, these foods tend to contain probiotic qualities but since dairy can be a potential hinder to good digestion, it is recommended that we turn to coconut yogurt, fermented vegetables, kefir and probiotic supplements to help cultivate that gut flora.
4. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.
You don’t have to tell me twice. Sleep, surprisingly, has a massive impact on your digestive system as digestive organs are restored, replenished and rejuvenated as we sleep. I know it is easier said than done when you’ve a house full of little sleep thieves but think of sleep as a luxury spa break to your gut, so if you are experiencing a gurgling tum and bloating, then it may be time for an early night.
5. I Like to Move it, Move it! (you know the rest)
Exercise can help to move and, to an extent, ‘massage’ the digestive system and in turn get things moving along a little more smoothly. This ‘massage’ has proven to have detoxifying properties and therefore helps the body expel toxins effectively. If in doubt, go for a walk, a swim, take a Zumba class or dust off your bike; if you’re moving, your digestive system is too.
6. Om and Breathe
Relaxation and generally ‘slowing down’ a little can have a massively positive impact on gut health. Gentle breathing exercises and calming yoga practice can help even the most hectic person relax and therefore reduce stress. Eating when stressed results in decrease in stomach enzyme production; meaning food struggles to digest. Similarly, wolfing down a meal can have an adverse effect on the gut as the stomach can’t keep up with the pace and more often than not then has to work overtime due to food not being adequately chewed. Setting aside time to eat, as simple as it sounds, could be the miracle your body is waiting for.
So ultimately, the road to a healthy gut is a winding one. We live our modern lives in the fast lane, rarely stopping to take a look at the bigger picture and how something as simple as a healthy gut could impact on our health overall. I guess, they don’t use the saying ‘gut feeling’ for nothing; everything starts and ends with the health of your digestive system, look after it and, it would seem, it will look after you!