If it is time for you to begin a gut health journey, but you aren’t sure where to start, we recommend you start at the basics. Eat enough fibre, get plenty of sleep and water and exercise, and you will be on the right path.
The health of your gut influences more than your stomach, and is currently a key area of research as more and more benefits of good gut health come to light.
Boffins from Harvard Medical School report the 100 trillion bacteria, both good and bad, living inside your digestive system may influence everything from inside the gut and out. So how can you support its vital work?
How can I improve my gut health?
1. Begin a gut health diet
How? Include fibre rich foods in every meal
Starting a gut health diet isn’t about restricting your calorie intake or making drastic changes to your meals. It is all about adding in or swapping out foods to introduce more fibre into your diet.
Fibre is the part of our food that is not absorbed into our blood stream for nutrients, and ensures the smooth passage of the unnecessary parts of our food out as waste.
“Fibre ensures the appropriate peristalsis of the gut, which is the squeezing motion that propels food from the stomach and through the colon,” Dr Harvey explains. In short, a lack of fibre can lead to problems such as constipation or cramping, and poor gut health.
Plant based foods highest in fibre includes beans, carrots, broccoli, lentils, banana, apple, sweet potato.
“If you increase your intake of fruit and veg to the recommended intake of 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables, this will increase your fibre intake and improve your gut health,” he says.
By eating fruit when you get sugar cravings, you might also find that you end up eating less refined sugar throughout the day. Try dipping your apple pieces in peanut butter, or snacking on almonds.
Another easy way to include more fibre in every meal is to swap white for wholemeal varieties of rice, bread and pasta.
2. Stay hydrated
How? Keep a water bottle with you and sip away. Also choosing fruits with a high water content like watermelon and oranges can help keep you hydrated.
Your gut is your body’s system for digesting the essential nutrients needed from food, and this system must have water to operate and work, says Dr Ryan Harvey.
“Water forms the basis of around 70% of the volume of the cells and tissues of the gut, as well as all the necessary digestive juices and enzymes required to break down your food,” he says.
While the amount of water we need to drink each day varies from person to person, and can change depending on your activities for the day (for example, if it is a hot day and you sweat more), about 8 cups (around 2 litres) of fluid a day is ideal.
3. Get eight hours of sleep and at least 30 minutes of exercise each day
How? Try and find a routine where you sleep at the same time every night. When it comes to exercise, walk the dog a little further, hop off the bus earlier or try doing some yoga in the living room.
Dr Harvey says sleep
is important part of overall health and gut health.
“When we sleep, the body takes this time to rest certain organs and repair any damage that has occurred during the day – including your gut, which slows down when you sleep, allowing it to rest and repair for the next round of digestion the following day,” he explains.
Exercise is also crucial to overall health and gut health.
“Exercise allows the body to appropriately use the nutrients and energy we have digested from our food via our gut,” he says.
There is also some evidence
to suggest exercise improves the health of the bacterial ecosystem that resides in your gut. Healthy bacteria in your gut means a healthy gut and better digestion.
The role of probiotics
If you would like to look further into gut health and make some more changes to your diet, the next best step is to consider your gut bacteria.
Include probiotic foods in your diet or consider using a probiotic supplement when necessary. Many yoghurts contain live strains of probiotics, so you can start by seeking them out and adding them to your diet.
Probiotics help restore the good bacteria in your body. These microorganisms promote a healthy digestive tract and immune system.
Poor food choices, stress and certain medications are just some of the things that can upset the natural balance of bacteria in your gut. Taking a probiotic or eating more probiotic foods can help restore this balance.
A gut health diet doesn’t have to be boring!
Doing the best for your gut doesn’t mean you need to spend hours every day planning your meals in advance – or running to specialty stores. There are many great resources online with gut friendly meals.
Expert nutritionist Dorota Trupp offers plenty of gut loving recipes like this one for Moroccan Chicken and Turmeric Tagine. The turmeric and ginger aren’t only for flavour – they also have anti-inflammatory benefits.
Give it a go yourself:
- 4 chicken drumsticks
- ½ onion, peeled and finely sliced
- ½ garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon of preserved lemon, finely chopped (zest and juice of a ¼ of a lemon and 1 pinch of salt)
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ½ teaspoon paprika powder
- 1 pinch saffron
- ½ cup of water
- ¼ cup of olives without stones
- ⅓ cup of chopped herbs (coriander or parsley or spring onions or mint)
Place chicken into stockpot with all ingredients except the olives and herbs. Mix and cover with a lid. Place onto a high heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer covered for 25 minutes. Then turn the heat off sprinkle olives and herbs over and serve.
Read more about probiotics, gut health and the low-FODMAP diet at the Blackmores Probiotic health hub