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A Guide to Good Gut Health

Our general health and wellbeing are an important aspect in our lives. We see lots of ways for us to exercise more, eat more healthily and try to relax our minds, but there is one area of our bodies that we often overlook and can make a big difference – our gut.

Our gut starts at the mouth, where food is ingested, and follows all the way through our stomach, intestines and colon until we excrete what we can’t use. Its role is to absorb all the nutrients we need to survive and protect us from invasive diseases. If your gut is compromised, then you can’t absorb food properly and you become more likely to fall ill.
 
There are 100 million neurons in our gut which the bacteria influence, which is why it often carries the name ‘the 2nd brain’. The gut also contains 70%-80% of our immune tissue, so it is a key part of your body’s operations. Taking care of our gut, and keeping it healthy, is a great way to make yourself feel better! Let’s have a look at what we can do to improve gut health.

What is a healthy gut?

Our guts are hosts to over 100 trillion bacteria! Not all of these bacteria are bad, in fact, most of it is essential to regulating our digestion, energy levels and mood. Our digestive system is better thought of a microbiome, meaning it is home to microbes or bacteria, and these microbes are what break down our food, help us absorb what we need and then get rid of the waste. A healthy gut will contain more ‘good’ bacteria than ‘bad’ bacteria, and encouraging the growth of these ‘good’ bacteria not only helps your digestion and immune system, but also prevents the ‘bad’ bacteria from taking over.

Why might I have an unhealthy gut?

With so much going on in our lives, it can be easy to neglect some of the basics that we should be doing every day. Some obvious things like not drinking enough and eating in a rush are bad for your gut, but all activity in our life affects our gut. Not getting enough sleep and being stressed also has an impact on our ‘2nd brain’ just as the way these make you feel unable to use your actual brain!

How can you improve your gut health?

A good place to start is keeping well hydrated and taking time to eat more slowly. Reducing the strain on your whole digestive system will make you feel better, so fuel it in a regular pattern. That goes for the other end as well, if you need the toilet then go as soon as you can and try not to hold it for longer.
 
Research has shown there are some ways you can enhance your gut with certain foods. There are two ways these theories work, prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are foods which nourish bacteria in your gut, to allow them to do their job the best the can. Probiotics are foods which add bacteria to your gut, to increase the number of ‘good’ bacteria. The benefits of both of these methods vary greatly from person to person, so before you about focusing on these points, here are some general diet changes you can make to help with your gut health.

Best foods for gut health

  • Fibre – Foods that are higher in fibre help your digestion and prevent constipation. Try to increase your intake of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Some people find some cereals cause stomach upset, so experiment with these high fibre foods and find what’s best for you.
  • Live Yogurt – Live yoghurt contains many of the ‘good’ bacteria found in your gut, and so won’t cause any conflict with your digestive system, so long as you don’t have an allergy!
  • Lean meats – if meat makes up a significant part of your diet, try swapping out fatty meats to lean meats. You can also grill the meat instead of frying it, reducing the fat and easing the strain on your digestion.
  • Herbal teas – normal tea and coffee can be higher in caffeine and more acidic, so if you want to improve your digestion try swapping out one of your cuppas for a herbal tea.
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Worst food for gut health

  • Fatty foods – foods which are high in fat are harder to digest and can lead to physical pain like heartburn and stomachache. Fried foods are also not easy for your gut to process, so cut down on greasy fried foods.
  • Spicy foods – a little bit of spice is a great way to enhance a dish, but too much can irritate your gut. If you are finding you have stomach pain or diarrhoea then reduce the amount of spice or chilli in your dishes slightly and see if it goes away.
  • Highly processed foods – highly processed foods often contain ingredients which are used to artificially enhance a specific flavour or to preserve the food for longer. These foods are often suppressers of the ‘good’ bacteria, or even increase the ‘bad’ bacteria count.
  • Fizzy drinks – fizzy drinks are often high in sugar, and also very acidic. These high levels of acid can irritate your throat, the first stage of the gut, and unsettle your stomach. Cut down on fizzy drinks by replacing them with water or squash. Be careful though, as fruit juices are also acidic and you may find the same irritations.
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