AUTHOR ABBIE MOULTON / PUBLISHED: FEB-2022
How to Eat Your Way to a Healthy Gut
Sugar cravings, poor quality sleep, frequent colds, and even anxiety and depression - our gut health is linked to more than we might think. A quickly growing area of interest for experts across health, wellness, and food - it seems the more we explore, the more we uncover just how much of a protective role our humble digestive system plays on our overall health and wellbeing.
Research has revealed that our gut plays a starring role, impacting anything from our energy levels to our likelihood of developing serious illness in later life. It looks after our bodies - and our minds - from the inside out.
As a nation savvy about our health, more of us have been discovering the benefits of a good gut-lifestyle - Bupa identified gut health as one of the biggest priorities in health for 2022, with an 83% increase in online searches. The good-gut movement is a way of life.
Our body is an ecosystem, and it’s all about harmony and balance. In this article we share some of our own insight alongside tips on how to heal and nurture the gut back to good health.
WHAT DOES 'GUT HEALTH' MEAN EXACTLY?
While the term of course covers our overall digestive system, we’re looking a little closer than that. Or a lot closer than that, checking things out on a microscopic level and getting to understand our gut bacteria.
Our bodies are filled with trillions of different types of bacteria - and while that may potentially sound like a bad thing, the majority inside our bodies are in fact good for us, helping to fend off illnesses and supporting our immune system.
Your gut is home to the largest population of bacteria (or microbes) in your body, and good gut health is, in essence, about nurturing a healthy environment (or microbiome), and a balance of good bacteria to bad bacteria, with lots of diversity through different strains.
WHY IS GOOD GUT HEALTH IMPORTANT?
If our brain is the control room, we can think of the gut as the engine room of the body - subtly powering anything from your heart, liver and kidneys, to your energy levels, quality of sleep and even your mental health.
Gut bacteria have been found to produce dopamine and other neurotransmitters that influence our various states of mind, like anxiety, concentration, reward and motivation. This symbiosis between microbes and emotions is known as the gut-brain axis.
The role gut health can have in looking after our bodies, is something L.A Brewery founder Louise Avery discovered first-hand, when health issues encouraged her to look for something healing for her stomach and immune system. A healthier lifestyle, combined with a love of wild and natural ingredients, soon led to improvements in digestive health, but she also found that she had more energy, and felt noticeably calmer and less anxious…
THE BENEFITS OF LOOKING AFTER YOUR GUT
Cultivating a healthy gut can keep our digestive and immune systems in order and help to maintain general health and wellbeing, including:
- More energy
- Regular functioning
- Better absorption of vitamins and minerals
- More nutrients in the body
- Weight regulation
- Improved mood
- Better quality sleep
Research has uncovered links with gut health as a potentially important key in overcoming anxiety and depression, while early studies have made connections between gut health and allergies, as well as long-term illnesses such as Parkinson's, crohn's disease and IBS, type 2 diabetes, and bowel cancer.
HOW CAN I TELL HOW HEALTHY MY GUT IS
Signs and symptoms of gut health problems
There’s no one single symptom but rather a combination of things to look out for. As we might expect, digestive issues like bloating, constipation, heartburn and cramps can be telltale signs.
But, there are some less obvious signs and symptoms of gut health issues:
- Unexplained weight changes, or difficulty losing or gaining weight
- Disturbed sleep
- Extreme tiredness or fatigue
- Feeling “sluggish”
- Mood disturbances, irritability
- Sugar cravings
- Food intolerances
- Skin conditions
High stress, too little sleep, processed foods, sugar, alcohol and cigarettes, (things all too familiar in modern life) can all upset the balance of gut flora, as can some medication, where we live whether as city dwellers dealing with pollution or country lovers - even the way you were born can all have an effect.
The good news is there ARE ways to restore healthy gut flora and promote good gut bacteria.
Exercise, sleep and looking after your stress levels will all help, but the easiest and most important way of all, just so happens to be the most delicious…. With some gut-healthy meals, whole ingredients and good-mood food.
HOW TO EAT YOUR WAY TO A HEALTHY GUT
Eating for two… trillion
Everything you eat and drink is also being served to your microscopic community of microbes - and you want to make sure they are functioning at their best. Here are our tips and advice on the best foods to eat for good gut-health:
TOP TIPS FOR EATING YOUR WAY TO A HEALTHY GUT
1. Diversify your diet
A healthy gut isn’t just about having a density of microbes, you also need diversity. Eating a wide range of plant-based, whole-grain foods promotes this diverse population of bacteria.
Dr Megan Rossi, gut-specialist registered dietitian, suggests eating 30 different wholefoods each week, so enjoy plenty of fruit, veggies, nuts, pulses and grains. An easy way to do this is to “build a rainbow” by making sure you’ve got lots of different colours on your plate.
Another easy way to build diversity is by drinking kombucha - our entire range has billions of strains of natural bacteria.
2. Say hello to high fibre
Fibre is fuel to microbes, and Western diets are typically low in this important substance. Give things a boost with fibre-rich foods, like berries, apples, oats, bananas, celery and kale,
3. Probiotics vs Prebiotics
Probiotics and prebiotics are both beneficial for good gut-health. Probiotics are essentially “good” bacteria like the ones already in your gut, while prebiotics feed our microbes and help to boost helpful bacteria.
Foods high in prebiotics include garlic, asparagus, apples, cacao, flaxseeds and hemp seeds.
For probiotics, look out for natural yoghurt, dairy and some cheese. You might even see “live bacteria” on some labels.
4. Fermented foods do lots of good
Boost beneficial bacteria and help your gut thrive by tucking into fermented foods like kimchi, kombucha, kefir, sauerkraut, pickles and miso. Full of naturally occurring probiotic bacteria like lactobacillus, fermented foods are a speedy way to top up your good gut bacteria.
5. Swap takeaways for travel-inspired cooking
Processed food and some takeaway dishes can be filled with preservatives and artificial ingredients that can actively destroy the good bacteria in your body, leading to an imbalance and causing all kinds of trouble. Avoiding processed foods and keeping takeaways for very occasional Friday nights will reap rewards.
An extra tip is that adding a spoonful of a fermented food like kimchi to your takeaway will help to boost those good bacteria.
6. Switch out the sugar
Sugar is another ingredient on the naughty list, capable of wiping out good bacteria and upsetting the balance. If you’ve got a sweet tooth and find it hard to get through the day without a treat, it can feel difficult to cut out altogether. Try replacing sugar with a natural ingredient like raw honey, or swapping your commercial chocolate bar with good quality high-percentage choc and a handful of nuts for less sugar, and more satisfaction.
7. Cook from scratch
One of the best ways to take charge of your diet is to create a routine around cooking from scratch. Pop a playlist on, shake the day off, and channel your inner Nigella by trying and testing a few recipes. Here’s one we love to get you started.
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About the Author
Writer. Eater. Storyteller.
I've always been obsessed with food and fascinated by flavours. Nothing makes me happier than digging into a great meal, elbows on the table, passing dishes back and forth between friends while swapping tales of our favourite food memories.
I have a drinks column with the Evening Standard and you can find my words online at http://www.abbiemoulton.com/
I was nominated Young British Foodies ‘Fresh Voice in Food Writing’, and I'm always on the hunt for a good story.