Today I’m talking about how to improve gut health naturally, and why it is so important. Maintaining a healthy gut is essential to maintain our overall health so we should be making it a priority. I’ll be honest when I tell you, I hadn’t heard much about maintaining a healthy gut until last year. Gut health was definitely a buzz-word online and in the media so I have done a lot reading up on it. It is most definitely not a passing phase and needs to be on top of our list in terms of staying healthy. I touched off the subject in my recent blog post on Apple Cider Vinegar.
Maintaining a healthy gut is extremely important as it is considered the pathway to your main organs. A healthy gut contains around 80% good bacteria and 20% bad bacteria. It needs the right balance in order to stave off diseases. Apparently the gut is the centre for all diseases that begin in the body.
In Chinese medicine, it is described as ‘the centre of your universe’, the ‘second brain’ and in some cases referred to as the engine room of our bodies. It is responsible for the absorption of nutrients, proper digestion and bowel function, resistance of germs and the elimination of toxins in the body. Therefore it is essential to maintain a healthy gut. It plays a huge part in our overall health.
Basically, you can be eating all the right foods and staying fit but if your gut isn’t healthy, then neither will you be. Our stomachs and lining of the intestines provide a barrier that protect all our tissue beneath. An incredible 80% of our immune defense is located in the digestive system.
Gut health is affected by 3 main factors. They are diet, age and lifestyle.
Diet – in this day and age, we are eating more processed food, more sugar and refined foods than ever before. There are more chemicals, pesticides and sterilized foods on the market and they are hard to avoid at the best of times. The problem is that the amount of bad bacteria entering our systems is out-numbering the good bacteria which makes it harder to keep our gut healthy. A healthy gut is made up of 80% good bacteria and 20% bad. We need to introduce more naturally fermented foods into our diets to combat the problem. There are also antibiotics in our food such as meat, as they are given to animals to keep them from getting sick. I recently wrote a blog post about plant-based diets highlighting the benefits here.
Age – Scientists know that elderly people tend to have different gut bacteria profiles than younger people. The change in balance is linked to inflammation and that is related to most late-onset diseases and disorders. The more bad bacteria in the gut lining, the more permeable to toxins that can contaminate the bloodstream and lead to disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes, anxiety, autism, stroke, dementia, cardiovascular disease and even cancer. Here is the link to a study performed on mice and the results – Study
Lifestyle – Our lifestyle plays a big part in gut health. Stress, antibiotics, smoking, alcohol and caffeine can affect the friendly bacteria.
Stress has an impact on colonic motor activity via the gut-brain axis which can alter gut microbiota profiles, including lower numbers of potentially beneficial Lactobacillus. Stress may contribute to IBS, one of the most common functional bowel disorders, and the associated changes in microbial populations via the central nervous system (CNS). The gut-brain axis is bi-directional, involving both hormonal and neuronal pathways, and so changes in the gut microbiota may influence brain activity, including mood. Autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder, is associated with significant shifts in gut microbiota populations. By NCBI
Luckily, we are able to improve gut health by making a few changes. Here is how to improve gut health naturally:
Improve gut health naturally by eating more fruit and vegetables. They are full of nutrients and healthy microbiota. They are high in fiber and that fiber can be digested by certain bacteria in your gut, which stimulates their growth. Here is a list of fruit and vegetables high in fiber to help improve gut health –
Also stock up on legumes such as –
Beans (kidney, pinto and white)
Other sources of fiber-rich nutrients are –
Fermented Foods. Fermenting usually involves bacteria or yeasts converting the sugars in food to organic acids or alcohol.
Fermented Foods such as –
Eating yoghurt alone has been revealed to help improve symptoms of lactose intolerance and reduce the bacteria causing disease in people with IBS. Fermented soy-bean milk and kimchi improve the growth of beneficial bacteria and benefit gut flora. Only use the non-sweetened natural yoghurt, so that there is no added sugar.
Understandably, the fermented foods can be hard to find. I spend half the year in rural France where they are hard, and sometimes impossible to find. The Sauerkraut can be made in 5-10 minutes and is easy to prepare. There are lots of recipes and tutorials available online. As for the kefir, it can often be sourced from local farms so worth checking.
Polyphenols are plant compounds that have many health benefits, including reductions in blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol levels and oxidative stress.
Polyphenol rich food and drinks –
This is how to improve gut health naturally – by adding those foods into your diet. It is also advised that you can take a probiotic. They contain live micro-organisms (usually bacteria) which exert a specific health benefit when consumed. They work by restoring the microbiota to a healthy state. There are many and varied studies on the effectiveness of probiotics and most prove positive but in general they work best in healing an unhealthy gut, rather than being relied on for maintaining gut health. I suppose what that means is that we shouldn’t necessarily rely on probiotics for maintaining a healthy gut. We need to nourish our bodies with fruit, vegetables and legumes with wholegrains and fermented foods in our diet.
I have recently cut out white bread and switched to wholegrain and brown breads, which I keep to a minimum. I swapped my standard pasta for wholegrain pasta and I actually prefer it! I was so surprised that it tastes great. I expected it to be horrible! It fills you up quicker and is so much better for you than empty carbs from the standard kind. Brown rice will be my next move and I am going to start using buckwheat in my salads as it tastes great in a salad. Did you know that popcorn is a wholegrain? I take ACV mixed with water or juice every day too, which helps.
So next time you sit down for a night in with a glass of red wine, popcorn and dark chocolate, there will be no guilt involved! You can quote me on that haha. Just the one glass though, after that it gets guilty.
Wishing you health and happiness in 2018!
Lots of love,