Gut health is an increasingly popular term of late, and for good reason. But what exactly does it mean to have good gut health, why do you want it and how do you improve gut health? Here’s our guide on all things to do with your tum and how to improve gut health naturally.
What is gut health?
Traditionally, gut health refers to the ability of your body to efficiently digest your food, absorb nutrients from that food, and excrete the leftover waste. We’ve all experienced what it feels like when these basic, essential processes are not working optimally. Think bloating, reflux, diarrhoea and constipation… all that fun stuff.
One of the major contributing factors to the health of our gut is something called our ‘microbiome’. Microbiome is the science-y name for the collection of microorganisms that live on and in our body – about 38 trillion of them! A large proportion of these microorganisms live in our gut, more specifically, in our intestines. These microorganisms include pathogens and viruses, and they also include bacteria. Approximately 500 different types of bacteria have been identified in the human gut, weighing up to 4 kilograms. Some of these bacteria are bad, but a huge amount of them are actually incredibly good (and important!) for our health. Pretty cool, huh?
The importance of gut health is becoming increasingly apparent amongst the medical community. In fact, research has steadily produced a large amount of evidence that suggests there is a strong link between our gut health and various health outcomes, such as immune system function, mental health, hormone balance, and skin health. According to this research, good gut health and having a good balance of healthy bacteria means we are less likely to develop autoimmune diseases, mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression, unwanted weight changes, acne, and even cancer. So, how to improve gut health naturally? The great news is that there are a number of simple and easy ways that we can improve our gut bacteria balance and overall gut health. Here are our top 6 gut health food tips.
1. Eat a wide variety of plant-based foods.
Plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes are rich in fibre, which helps food to move through the digestive tract more smoothly. Fibre-rich foods also contain prebiotics which can help to feed certain strains of good bacteria such as Bifidobacteria. If there was ever a gut health diet, this is it!
2. Try fermented foods
Fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, sauerkraut and kimchi are all fantastic natural sources of probiotics, particularly Lactobacilli; one of the healthy strains of bacteria. Probiotics can also be purchased as a gut health supplement from the chemist or your local health food store. Try out a broad-spectrum probiotic to increase your balance of healthy gut bacteria.
3. Get your polyphenols in
Chocolate lovers rejoice! Polyphenols are found in dark chocolate, green tea, olive oil, and red wine, and promote gut health by travelling to the colon, where they feed the good bacteria and protect against the growth of unwanted pathogens.
4. Reduce your intake of processed foods
Foods such as deli meats, cakes, biscuits, and chips are more likely to contain preservatives, emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners that may contribute to inflammation in the digestive system and have been linked to certain types of cancers such as stomach and colon cancer.
5. Limit alcohol consumption
Whilst small amounts of alcohol may have some health benefits, excessive consumption has been shown to harm gut health by causing inflammation in the lining of the digestive tract. Alcohol can also delay the digestion process and contribute to the growth of bad bacteria.
6. Slow down
Taking the time to slow down and chew your food properly is a very simple yet important aspect of good digestion and can also help to ensure you are extracting as much of the nutrients as possible from the food you’re eating. Digestion starts in the mouth! Eating in a calm, stress-free state can also help to ensure you’re properly breaking down food, and reduce symptoms such as diarrhoea or constipation. Stress has also been shown to cause an imbalance in gut bacteria – so slow down, turn off the TV in the background, and save any serious conversations for later. The saying goes that you are what you eat, this should really be ‘we are what we digest and absorb’.