So what is a healthy gut?
I guess I could answer this question by giving you symptoms of an 'unhealthy' gut. Some of them include:
- regular gas or bloating
- digestive complaints including diarrhoea and constipation
- bad breath
- Feelings of anxiety and depression
- lack of energy and vitality
- sugar cravings
- food intolerances
What we eat and drink can affect our mood, actions and thoughts – the gut has been dubbed our “second brain”. The phrase “gut feeling” can be said to be entirely true, I’m sure you have had this feeling many times.
Consider the following about the gastrointestinal system:
- The gastrointestinal system comprises 75% of the body’s immune system
- There are more neurons in the small intestine than in the entire spinal cord
- It is the only system in the body that has its own, independently operating nervous system, called the enteric nervous system
- If you stretched out the gastrointestinal system in its entirety, it would have the surface area of a regulation sized singles tennis court
- There are over 400 species of microbes living in your gut, totalling over 15 pounds of mass and containing more bacteria than there are known stars in the sky
The role of good bacteria
The human intestine is home to a large community of microorganisms, also known as ‘gut flora’ or ‘good bacteria’. Research has linked imbalances in the gut flora to autoimmune diseases, obesity, diabetes, ineffective digestion which results in the limited absorption of vital nutrients and minerals.
Research has also shown that 80-90% of the body’s serotonin (the ‘feel good’ hormone) is found in the gut. Serotonin assists in regulating bowel movements as well as playing a pivotal role in assisting sleep patterns and elevating your mood. So you can see that when our gut is upset, why we usually feel rather glum ourselves!
Now, not to bore you too much with all the science in regards to a healthy functioning gut. I just wanted to point out some basic but very important points.
Ok so here are 5 simple things you can try to improve your gut health.
1. Although rather broad it is oh so important: Eat mostly whole foods like vegetables, fruits and salads. Food in its full glory is also full of the best nutrients for our bodies.
2. Take a good quality probiotic and/or eat fermented foods.
Examples of fermented foods are: kefir, kombucha tea, yoghurt, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi and fermented vegetables. Fermented foods are naturally packed with probiotics to help restore gut flora.
Kefir: Kefir is a thick fermented milk drink, similar to a drinking yoghurt. It has a distinctive tart, yet refreshing taste, with a slight effervescence. What distinguishes kefir from other probiotic foods such as yoghurt, is that it contains a broader range of beneficial bacteria along with yeasts, which work together to give kefir its exceptional health benefits. It is commonly made from cow’s milk but can also be made from sheep, goat, coconut, or soy milk. Kefir is produced by the action of kefir grains, which are a symbiotic community of bacteria and yeasts, which are gelatinous white or yellow grain-like clumps. These grains ferment the milk and are then removed to make a new batch of kefir.
Kombucha: is a fermented probiotic drink that originated from China but oftentimes is credited to be originated from Russia. It is made from tea, sugar, a scoby and a starter from a previous batch. The sugar and caffeine are used all up in the fermentation process so don’t worry, it has very little (if any) caffeine or sugar in the final product.
A SCOBY is an acronym for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast. In short, it’s beneficial bacteria and yeasts that work synergistically together to produce a certain type of ferment.
Kombucha is brewed (or fermented) over a course of 7-31 days. The final product is naturally carbonated making this a fizzy and tasty drink.
Miso: is a fermented paste that’s made by inoculating a mixture of soybeans with a mold called koji (for you science folks, that’s the common name for Aspergillus oryzae) that’s been cultivated from rice, barley, or soybeans. Over weeks (or even years!), the enzymes in the koji work together with the microorganisms in the environment to break down the structure of the beans and grains into amino acids, fatty acids, and simple sugars.
Sauerkraut: Basically, sauerkraut is shredded cabbage fermented in its own juice with or without a culture starter or a salt water brine. Many other vegetables and spices can be added for extra flavour and variety, but cabbage is usually the main ingredient because the leaves contain high amounts of naturally occurring cultures that help it to ferment.
The process is accomplished in a glass or ceramic fermentation jar or "crock" of some kind. The chopped or shredded veggies are pressed down tight, creating an oxygen free space. Typically some sort of heavy weight is placed on top, but it is not always needed.
Over the fermentation time, between 4-10 days (or much longer depending on how you like them), the veggies become soft, slightly pickled, tangy and very tasty.
Kimchi: While different recipes have slight variations in terms of the variety of vegetables and amount of seasoning, most people use cabbage, mixed with salt, vinegar, garlic, chili peppers, and other spices.
These ingredients are fermented in a closed jar for anywhere between two days and a week
Good quality Probiotic supplements:
What is a probiotic?
Probiotics are live microorganisms aka ‘good bacteria’ that live in our gut. They support our immune system, aid digestion and assist with nutrient absorption into our bloodstream. Probiotics help keep the gut healthy by preventing the harmful ‘bad’ bacteria from overtaking the gut.
Supplemental doses are typically expressed in billions of live organisms. Between 3 and 5 billion would be a starting dose. This could be increased to 10 billion if you are hoping to alleviate a specific health concern. Take with food/drink and use a reputable brand.
· Inner Health Plus
· Australian NaturalCare Probiotic SB digestive balance
· Garden of Life, Dr Formulated Probiotics, Once Daily Women’s
3. Include Prebiotics in your diet - daily
What is a prebiotic?
Prebiotics help keep probiotics alive. We don’t digest prebiotics, which come mainly from oligosaccharides (complex starches), but probiotics love them. They feed the good bacteria in our large intestine which helps to promote a balanced gut flora and healthy bowel function. When our good bacteria eat probiotic fibres, they produce beneficial short chain fatty acids, such as butyrate, which inhibits the growth of disease-causing pathogens and maintains the health of our intestinal lining.
Inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides (FOS) are common prebiotics. You’ll get them from legumes, fruits and whole grains. They are abundant in the food supply (when you eat real food). And another prebiotic is galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS), found in human breast milk. Hooray for breastfeeding.
Although not the only sources of prebiotics this is a good starting food source list of prebiotics:
|Green leafy vegetables||Wheat|
|Citrus fruits||Onions and garlic|
|Barley||Honey and agave|
4. Drink plenty of water each day.
Although there is not set rule for how much water you "should" drink each day a good number to at least aim for is 2 litres minimum (approx. 8-12 glasses). This intake would include herbal tea. Water is nourishing for the body and digestive tract and aids in removal of waste and toxins.
Why not try some of these herbal teas:
· Chamomile tea
· Chai tea
· Cinnamon tea
· Ginger tea
· Fennel tea
· Matcha Green tea
· Hibiscus tea
· Lemongrass tea
· Nettle tea
· Peppermint tea
5. Avoid processed foods that contain additives and preservatives
I know , I know. You have heard this many times but it really is something to try your best to do if you are serious about helping your gut improve. Basically anything that comes out of a package is processed food.
This also includes: enhancers like MSG, refined sugar, soy, artificial sweeteners, bulking agents, thickeners and gums.
Examples of processed foods: White bread, soft drinks, sports drinks, white flour, processed cereals (think Just Right , Nutra-grain, rice bubbles etc), processed deli meats like salami, store-bought stocks, soups, salad dressings, ready-made stir-fry and curry sauces even white pasta is on the list.
So you might be reading this and thinking "I've heard all of this before".
We all need a reminder every now and again to regroup and reassess our current eating and drinking habits.
As you will see, it is not rocket science, nor is it any complex diet. Just getting back to basics with your food.
When it comes to your gut health I encourage you to think of it as one of the most important relationships in your life. Like a lover, you know when your gut is upset, you know when it is happy, you know when it just doesn't seem right and you certainly know when the brain has sabotaged the gut! (maybe with overindulgence?)
Have you been listening to your gut lately?
Here's to your improving your gut health!
As always, remember to Move & Nourish that fabulous body of yours