For many years we have heard phrases such as ‘trust your gut’ or ‘what’s your gut feeling?’, yet until recently may not have truly understood the impact a healthy gut has on our overall wellbeing.
One simple way of explaining gut health is that if we look after our gut, our gut will look after us!
Although it can be a sensitive topic, it’s important to give it some airtime, especially since around one third of the world’s population have some form of gut or digestive symptom!
There’s a zoo in my poo, what should I do?
Gut health relates to the functioning of our entire digestive tract – a 9 metre long tube which delivers food all the way from entry to exit. Within our digestive tract we have trillions of live bacteria. These bacteria are often referred to as our ‘gut bugs’ or our ‘gut microbiome’.
As individuals, everyone’s gut microbiome is unique (even twins have different gut bugs!).
It is important that we aim to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in our gut, as it works hard in our body’s to:
- Breakdown our food
Eating the fibre that our human cells cannot digest
Creating short chain fatty acids from the fibre they consume which work to regulate our appetite hormone, typically meaning a higher fibre, gut nourishing diet is more likely to leave us in the ‘healthy body range’
Needed in the body for energy
- Aid healthy digestion
Helping to form waste and support it’s smooth exit
- Contribute to a healthy functioning immune system
70% of our immune cells actually live in our gut! Healthy gut microbes train our immune system to respond to threats, working to support it to fight off potential diseases or illness that our bodies can pick up every day.
- It works as our second brain
We often have a gut reaction to what we are thinking. This is down to our gut and our brain constantly communicating through the gut brain axis. Suffering from chronic stress could have a negative impact on our gut bacteria, as well as the quality of our gut bacteria affecting how we think and feel.
Most of our feel good hormone serotonin is produced in the gut. An imbalance of bacteria in the gut may result in our microbiome failing to produce the appropriate amount of serotonin meaning an unhappy gut could lead to an unhappy mind.
Ideally, we aim to maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in our gut to create an environment that is devoid of inflammation and adequately absorbing nutrients. In a situation where things tip out of balance, our bodies could be in danger of inflammation, digestive and mood issues and could be more susceptible to illness and weight gain.
The good news is, we can play a part of controlling the quality of our microbiome, as it can be largely influenced by certain diet and lifestyle factors.
Feed your friends
In other words – feed your gut bugs! Our gut bacteria feast on colour, fibre and variety!
Eating colourfully or as we sometimes put it ‘Eating the Rainbow’ will provide us with a diverse range of nutrients and encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria in our gut. Colourful foods also provide us with a micronutrient called polyphenols which travel through the body working to lower inflammation.
As humans we cannot actually digest fibre, however it is our gut bacteria’s preferred source of fuel. It’s recommended that we eat 30g of fibre per day, however here in the UK we are not meeting those guidelines.
Fibre is often found in many plant foods, good sources include; lots of fruits and vegetables, oats, beans and legumes, wholegrains and nuts and seeds.
Probiotics are beneficial live bacteria which occur naturally in fermented foods, including; kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, tempeh and yogurt.
Prebiotics are sources of fibre that ferment in the gut, creating beneficial bioactive compounds needed to aid digestion. Sources include; artichokes, leeks, onions, garlic, asparagus and bananas.
Adding some probiotics and prebiotics to your diet could be a beneficial step when working to aid digestion.
There is a strong link between mood and food. Think about it, generally when you nourish your body with what it needs, you feel better within yourself.
What we eat affects our mood through our gut, brain connection. If we feed our microbes their preferred source of fuel (diverse fibre, mainly found in plant sources) it enables calm signals to be sent to the brain, indicating things are okay. However, if we consistently eat highly processed foods that our gut bugs don’t enjoy, stress signals are sent to the brain. Messages that come from our microbiome can strongly influence our mental wellbeing.
Work towards limiting processed foods that are high in fat, salt and sugar along with caffeine and alcohol and prioritise opting for real, whole foods.
It’s not just what we eat, it’s how we eat too!
Rushing food creates the potential for stress in the gut, often causing bloating and digestive issues.
How you eat: slowly and mindfully whilst fully present
Where you eat: sitting still and upright in a calm environment
How you feel when you eat: during a busy day it’s easy to rush through your food then quickly move onto the next job. If you’re having a hectic one, check in and pause, put your phone away/ close your laptop and take 3 mindful breaths. You’re back in the room!
What you wear when you eat: tight jeans or leggings can be uncomfortable to eat in, causing pressure on our gut and therefore effecting our digestion. Make wise wardrobe choices before eating a large meal.
Try to stress, less
It’s easier said than done; however it’s important to remember that a stressed mind leads to a stressed gut. Think about when you are feeling stressed or anxious – do your toilet habits change?!
De-stress your gut: Use the diet and lifestyle tips provided to maintain a happy, healthy gut!
Trust your gut
Our body needs calm. When we slow down and allow ourselves time to rest we are truly able to check in with ourselves and get to know our bodies, listening to the messages they send us each day.
What works for one doesn’t always work for another. Get to know your gut. If it is sending you signals that something isn’t right, learn to trust it and prioritise managing it rather than letting it manage you.
Thanks for reading and have a gut day!!