How healthy is your gut? If you struggle with ongoing digestive symptoms it’s time to take action. What’s more, the latest research is revealing the state of our gut microbiome may be important when it comes to weight loss, improving our mood, tackling stress, a healthy immune system and much more. So if you’re looking to give your health a boost this gut health guide can help you get back on your wellness track.
The collection of bacteria living in and on our body known as the ‘microbiome’ consists of about 100 trillion bacterial cells, the highest concentration of which is in your gut. We now know from research that a higher diversity of gut microbes is associated with better health long term. The diversity and number of these bacteria is influenced by our diet, genetics and lifestyle. When the balance of our gut microbes is disrupted it can lead to a problem called dysbiosis. Dysbiosis is probably much more common than you’d think: it has been associated with a range of health issues including IBS, inflammatory bowel disease, allergies and even obesity.
What are some of the key functions of our gut microbiome?
A healthy gut plays an important role when it comes to our health particularly digestive health. Firstly our gut microbes help us digest and move food through the gastrointestinal tract. So if you’ve struggled with constipation or diarrhoea this may indicate you need to pay more attention to your gut health. Our gut microbes also support our gut lining which plays a key role when it comes to immune health, allergies and autoimmunity. Our gut barrier can easily become disrupted with poor diet, medications, stress and infections.
A healthy gut flora also helps reduce our risk of gut infections. In addition gut bacteria produce molecules called short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that have multiple beneficial functions. For example they are needed to help us burn energy efficiently, lowering inflammation and support the gut barrier. Gut bacteria are also involved in the production a number of important vitamins and minerals including various B vitamins and vitamin K2.
How To Improve Your Gut Health
There are many factors in our modern lifestyle that can disrupt our gut flora. Our gut health guide will help you become aware of these, and thus allow you to make better dietary and lifestyle choices to get your gut back on track.
Eat Enough Fibre
Whole, unprocessed nutrient rich foods promote a healthy gut flora. These are rich in fibre which support the growth of our beneficial gut bacteria. Beans and pulses, oats, wholegrain rice, leafy greens, green bananas, starchy vegetables are just a few examples of fibre rich foods.
Add in Polyphenols
Polyphenols are naturally-occurring compounds found in in plants. Once consumed, only about 5-10% of polyphenols are directly absorbed in the small intestine, while the rest make their way to the colon to be utilised by our gut bacteria. Simply adding a variety of polyphenol rich foods in your diet can improve the composition of your gut flora. Examples of polyphenol rich foods include green tea, blueberries, globe artichokes, cherries, plums, raspberries, dark chocolate, strawberries, grapes, spinach and even red wine.
Include Fermented Foods
Eating some fermented foods daily is an easy way to introduce probiotics into your digestive system. Examples include kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt and kombucha. Try and include ½ cup daily – for example a small pot of Greek yogurt with some berries makes an ideal healthy snack.
Remove Aggravating Foods
Certain foods can disrupt our gut microbiome – refined carbohydrates, sugars, artificial sweeteners, processed foods and ready meals can all cause shifts in the balance of our gut flora. Focus instead on a more Mediterranean style of eating with plenty of whole foods, lean proteins, colourful fruits and vegetables and healthy fats (e.g olives, avocado, oily fish, nuts and seeds).
Try Bone Broth
Using meat bones as the basis for a delicious stock is a traditional way to add flavour to meals. It is also incredibly nutritious especially when it comes to gut health. Bone broth provides a range of amino acids and nutrients including collagen, gelatin, glycine, proline, glutamine and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and manganese. Consuming bone broth is an easy way to support your gut health. Gelatine for example absorbs water and helps maintain the layer of mucus that supports the gut barrier. Gelatine and glycine have also been shown to help lower inflammation (in your gut and joints) and glutamine is an important nutrient for maintaining a healthy gut lining.
Drinking bone broth is also an effective way to support overall digestion. It can support the healthy production of stomach acid and bile and improve overall gut motility. While you can make your own you can also buy good quality organic bone broth like Boosh Bone Broths. These are 100% organic and free from any artificial colours, flavours or sugars. They are also a great natural source of collagen which is essential to maintain healthy bones, muscles, joints, skin and so much more. The bones are also slow cooked for many hours enabling more nutrients to be extracted.
Boosh Bone Broths are available to buy from booshfoods.com, Ocado, and Amazon from £4.99/350ml.
Sleep & Stress
Both a lack of quality sleep and high stress have been shown to alter our gut microbiome, promote inflammation and influence overall digestive health. Make sleep and stress management a priority if you want to improve your gut health long term.
Keeping active each day is another way to improve your gut microbiome. Research has shown that regular physical activity can improve the number and diversity of beneficial microbes. So aim to include daily exercise but don’t go overboard – over exercising may actually adversely affect digestive health and gut barrier function.
Nutritionist Christine Bailey is a functional nutrition practitioner and author of the Gut Health Diet Plan (Nourish Books).