How often do you think of your gut? If you get a headache, feel a bit low or anxious, or get a lot of colds, do you find yourself wondering about your gut health and the state of your gut bacteria? Don’t worry most people never relate the pain to their gut. In this article I’m going to share some biology and reasons why you should pay attention to your gut (without the classroom). This will transform your life if you actively change they way you eat to improve an unhealthy gut.
Until recently and I guess being in my late-thirties, my gut bacteria was the last thing I thought about when I had a headache or caught a cold! Yet, keeping a healthy gut is one of the best ways to protect your immune system and keep your whole body healthy.
The world is a bit scary right now with this Covid-19 pandemic. A virus sweeps the continents and we’re yet to find a cure. We’re all worried about our families and want to find a way to give them a chance to their best health. I can’t promise a golden solution, but improving your gut health will, in turn help to strengthen your own immune system. And, at a time when the world faces the threat of viruses, a strong immune system is your body’s best and natural defence mechanism.
So, today I’m going to show you the importance of keeping a healthy gut and how you can improve your gut health by eating gut-glorious foods (ending with some drool-worthy recipes).
The importance of your gut and keeping it healthy
“All disease begins in the gut.” Hippocrates
The health of your gastrointestinal system is crucial to your overall well-being. The good bacteria in your gut are responsible for your body’s digestive and immunity systems, which affect your body’s vitamin and mineral absorbency, hormone regulation, immune response, and overall mental health.
Additionally, your gut lining acts as a protective barrier. It absorbs what it needs and guards against harmful substances. If your gut lining becomes inflamed or damaged, it could impact your health greatly when your digestive and immune systems face problems. (Resource: Sarah Law explanation)
So, you can see how your gut health can be the root cause for many health issues, including immunity and brain and mental health. An unhealthy gut paves the way for problems such as a lowered immune system, mood, mental health, autoimmune diseases, skin conditions, cancers, hypertension, allergies, and heart disease. (Further information resource: navacenter articles)
A healthy gut, on the other hand, naturally translates into a healthy body and mind. Not only can a strong gut keep you physically healthy (keeping illnesses at bay and body functions operating smoothly) but it can also improve your resistance to mental health issues like depression and anxiety. This is because serotonin is created in your gut. (Sarah explains overall well-being in this video)
Healing your gut allows your body to build a stronger immune system and produce the right kind of bacteria that tells your brain it’s okay to feel good again. Dr E.M. Quigley found that having a wide variety of good bacteria in your gut can enhance your immune system function, improve symptoms of depression, help combat obesity, and provide other health benefits.
Fortunately, it’s really easy to tell how your gut is doing once you get used to thinking about it. If your gut is feeling good, you’ll feel good too!
How Does The Gut Improve Immunity?
We learned above that keeping your gut healthy is important for your health, particularly for keeping a strong immune system. (Resource: Gut Health)
But did you know that 70-80% of your immune tissue is located within your digestive system?
The gut is often the first entry point for exposure to pathogens (bad bacteria and viruses that can cause disease). Therefore, you need a healthy and thriving gut to strengthen your immune system and avoid illness. Check out Food Matters for more reading on this.
These three functions are how our guts fight off the pathogens:
- With the production of immunoglobulin A (this antibody is key to immune function)
- Promotion of anti-inflammatory cytokines (remember we learned an inflamed gut lining caused health difficulties?)
- Induction of regulatory T cells (they regulate and suppress other cells in the immune system)
So, maintaining a healthy balance of good bacteria in the gut is important. Without this, your immune system cannot do its job effectively, leaving you defenceless.
Signs Of An Unhealthy Gut
So you’re starting to understand how important a healthy gut is for your overall health and wellbeing. But, how do you spot an unhealthy gut to know when to improve your gut health?
Here’s a quick list (resource: healthline) of common symptoms you’ll notice if your gut is experiencing problems:
- Upset stomach
- A high-sugar diet
- Unintentional weight changes
- Sleep disturbances or constant fatigue
- Skin irritation
- Autoimmune conditions
- Food intolerances
Eating a fully healthy diet can be difficult, especially when most foods in the west contain so much fat and sugar. I often thought my diet was healthy. I eat a balanced diet consisting mostly of fruit and vegetables. I love fresh foods, eat dairy-free yoghurt enhanced with probiotics, and thought I was doing the best for my bodily health. Yet, I still struggled with fatigue, stomach issues, and mental health problems.
When I started researching gut health, I realised there was much more I could do with my diet to help my stomach. I started paying more attention to my gut and trying to match foods better. Yes, I already had a healthy diet, but I’m learning to read my body better to give my gut foods it loves even more. As always, it’s a delicate balance.
The Solution: Improve Your Gut Health With The Four R's
Improving your gut health is as simple as improving your diet and getting more exercise. As all of our bodies are different, I can’t give you a one-size-fits-all plan. But, I can show you what steps to take to find your best gut health and tell you which foods are best to add to your diet. (Resource: Navacenter)
Follow the four R’s of gastrointestinal and digestive health: remove, repair, restore, and replace:
- Remove: the bad bugs, drugs (some antibiotics make it worse), food allergens
- Repair: the gut lining with omega 3 fatty acids, zinc, glutamine, and other healing nutrients
- Restore: your gut with good bacteria (probiotics)
- Replace: needed enzymes, fibre, and prebiotics
Resource: More from EcoWatch
A good method to improve your gut health is to eat high-nutrient and fibre-rich whole foods, fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and protein.
Try to avoid foods that are rich in sugars.
Start slowly and add more and more fibre and cut sugar bit by bit. Your gut microbes will need to adapt to a new eating habit (food diet), so don’t go all-out straight away!
Resource: More on digestive system from mong.com.
Here’s a list of all the elements that will help to improve your gut health. Which ones can you check off as you work towards strengthening your good bacteria?
- Eat foods with probiotics (see food list below)
- Eat fermented foods (see food list below)
- Eat prebiotic fibre
- Reduce sugar and sweetener intake
- Manage stress
- Get enough sleep
- Exercise regularly
- Stop smoking
- Eat a vegetarian (or largely veggie) diet
- Eat slower (this is something I need to work on. I eat my food like someone is about to steal my plate!)
- Stay hydrated (water and herbal teas will work best)
- Check for food intolerances (sometimes they’re hard to spot – read our Blog on allergies)
- Change your diet (see food lists below)
Prebiotics Versus Probiotics
Confused about probiotics and prebiotics and which one does what? Don’t worry I was the same so here is all I need to remember. Essentially, prebiotics act as foods for probiotics. Ensure you have both in your diet for best health. For more reading check out prebiotin.
Great Gut Foods
Making good food swaps can improve your gut health. Which of these do you eat regularly? Or which of these could you start adding to your daily diet?
- Fermented foods (kefir, kimchi, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, tempeh, nattou, apple cider vinegar)
- Prebiotic fibre foods (asparagus, bananas, chicory, garlic, artichoke, onions, whole grains)
- Vegetarian diets (it’s all about the fresh foods and fibres)
- High-fibre foods (legumes, beans, peas, oats, bananas, berries, asparagus, leeks)
- Collagen-rich foods (bone broth, salmon, mushrooms)
Gut-Glorious Grub - Recipes!
If you need any further inspiration of gut-boosting, immune-system-increasing recipes, check out these links to awesome-looking recipes I drooled over while researching gut health!
- Home-made kimchi (https://www.theguthealthdoctor.com/recipes-blog/kimchi)
- Though this says chicken, for increased veggie gut health benefits I’d make this with chickpea or lentil ‘meatballs’ instead and a veggie stock. (https://loveyourgut.com/recipes/chicken-meatballs-with-oriental-greens-lime-ginger/)
- An ultimate gut-improving recipe by one of my favourite chefs, Jamie Oliver. Packed with ginger, garlic, cabbage, miso, AND tofu, this is a top and easy dish. I eat something similar to this multiple times a week just because it’s a favourite! (https://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/vegetables-recipes/miso-soup-with-tofu-cabbage/).
- Pasta CAN be healthy thanks to olives and artichokes. (http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/274008/mediterranean-ravioli-with-artichokes-olives/)
- For a great gut breakfasts, add banana and yoghurt to this tasty oat muesli. (http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/265712/muesli-with-raspberries/)
- For a vegan alternative to this good-gut smoothie, swap kefir for a probiotic vegan yoghurt of your choice. (http://www.eatingwell.com/recipe/274309/anti-inflammatory-cherry-spinach-smoothie/)
- And a sweet treat, prebiotic chocolate bark. (https://www.theguthealthdoctor.com/recipes-blog/prebiotic-chocolate-bark)
Kimchi can be one of those things that is difficult to know how to use in recipes. I love it as a buddha bowl topping. But, depending on how often you eat it, you may find yourself with too much. And, while fermented foods are safe to eat for a while, the tangy taste can get a little strange when ‘stale’. My wonderful Korean hairdresser told me what he and his family did when kimchi got a little old (the best recipes come from other people, after all!). He said he used older kimchi in a stir fry with other veggies or in ‘kimchi stir-fried rice’. Have an experiment with your leftover kimchi and your favourite stir-fry ingredients for some gut-glorious grub!
Peppermint: The Healing Herb
When improving gut health, you may notice abdominal pain, bloating, or constipation. This is normal and temporary when your body transitions between diets and lifestyles.
Remedy this with peppermint oil diluted in a carrier oil to rub on your abdomen or aromatically with a vaporizer or diffuser. You can also drink peppermint tea to relax your stomach and help with digestion. (Resource: Mong.com)
- The gut is key to bodily health. It’s the place serotonin is made to help our mental health and home to over 70% of our immune system.
- Our gut helps our immune system to function. At a time we need to protect our bodies from a global virus, now is the best time to improve gut and immune health.
- If you’re feeling a bit under-the-weather, check in with your gut. It may be sending you a message.
- Fermented foods, probiotics, prebiotic fibres, fresh veggies, and collagen-rich foods will all provide the best gut health.
As always, it’s about choice. So with all this knowledge, will you be eating the right things?
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