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Gut health

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

The gut refers to the entire gastrointestinal tract and it's a powerhouse within the body.


It's primary role (as we all know) is digesting food and converting it into energy, delivering nutrients into the bloodstream that every single organ needs and managing wastes (including the elimination of harmful toxins).


But it has some other important jobs to do. It helps protect you against disease; your gut plays host to around 70% of your immune system. Gut bacteria also produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes, as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood. In fact about 95% of the body's supply of serotonin (a hormone that influences both mood and gastrointestinal activity) is manufactured by gut bacteria.


When we talk about gut health, we're really talking about the bacteria in the microbiome and vast majority of 'microbiome magic' happens in the large intestine (also knows as the colon). A healthy gut is so fundamental to your overall wellbeing, that we can't emphasise it's important enough.


So let's talk gut health.


Why is gut health so important?

You may have heard of the term leaky gut, but what does it mean? Your gut works to prevent harmful substances you ingest from reaching your blood stream. If it fails, and those are able to get past its defence, inflammation can occur. There are many ways inflammation can negatively affect your body and it's associated with the development of some chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and colitis among others.


The good news is, you have significant control over the health of your gut. Your microbiome is completely unique to you (a bit like your finger print) and according to research, the more diverse the community of gut microbes are, the lower your risk of disease and allergies.


How do you know if it's time for a cleanse?

Here are the key signs of toxin overload and poor gut health:

  • Bloating

  • Allergies

  • Slow digestion

  • Skin inflammation/irritation

  • Brain fog

  • Weight gain

  • Chronically tired

  • And if you're female, painful irregular menstruation

What causes poor gut health?

Understanding what causes poor gut health is also important. You'd be forgiven thinking it's all about the food you eat (and this is obviously a fundamental part) but actually there's more to it. Even with a healthy diet, there are other things that can cause problems. Here's the most common:

  • Not getting enough sleep

  • Too much stress

  • Lack of physical exercise

  • Not eating a diverse range of fruit and vegetables

  • Low fibre diet

  • A diet high in ultra processed foods and/or sugar

  • Antibiotic use

  • Smoking

  • Too much alcohol

  • Over-washing and overuse of antibacterial sprays

How can you look after your gut?

You can support your gut microbiome with the right nutrition, by eating slowly (to allow for efficient digestion of nutrients), by not over-eating (your gut needs space to churn), regular exercise (a 20 minute walk counts), spending time outside (the greener, the better) and by stroking animals (great for all the pet owners!).


In terms of nutrition, your gut needs you to eat the rainbow. Eating a variety of plant based, fibre rich foods every day is key to maintaining a balanced microbiome. If you like a goal, aim to eat at least 40 different varieties of fruit & veg (including herbs and spices) every week. Your gut will love you for it.


There are also some less obvious foods, that are particularly good for your gut. These are:

  1. Live yoghurt This is a great source of probiotics (friendly gut bacteria that help reduce leaky gut). You can buy yoghurt drinks designed to promote good bacteria but be careful of the sugar content; we'd suggest you stick to traditional full fat greek yoghurt and if you fancy it a little sweeter, just add some raw honey. Yum.

  2. Kefir This probiotic yoghurt drink is made by fermenting milk and is packed with good bacteria. It's also a great addition to smoothies and soups.

  3. Bone broth/collagen This helps with healing the gut lining which helps to keep the environment healthy and prevents inflammation

  4. Healing fats Healing fats like coconut oil and ghee both have their own roles in keeping the gut healthy. Find some organic odourless coconut oil if you're not a coconut fan. Olive oil is also very gut friendly but watch the temperature if you're cooking with it as it breaks down if you turn the heat up too high.

  5. Sourdough If you're eating bread, this is by far the best for your gut. It's made by fermenting the dough so it's more digestible that normal bread and released energy slowly.

  6. Anti-inflammatory foods Include a variety of anti inflammatory foods like ginger, garlic, turmeric, leafy greens, berries, green tea, ginseng, red grapes, honey and cinnamon.

  7. Fermented foods Fermented foods provide the body with a variety of bacteria that then help to populate the gut and give it more diversity. Examples include kombucha, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, miso paste, tempeh and tofu. Let's look at a selection of them:

    1. Kombucha A fermented tea drink full of probiotics. A healthy alternative to water if you need one. Our favourite brand is Real - it's light, fizzy and great in a champagne glass if you're alcohol free at a party.

    2. Sauerkraut A traditionally German dish made of finally chopped fermented cabbage. A great source of fibre, vitamins and probiotics and delicious served with sausages and salads. Avoid products that are pickled in vinegar as it reduces the health benefits.

    3. Kimchi A Korean speciality of fermented vegetables. Like Sauerkraut it's full of fibre, vitamins and probiotics and you can use it as a lively side dish (it's spicy!) with meat or salad.

    4. Miso Made from fermented soya beans, plus barley or rice and best known as an accompaniment to sushi. Full of good bacteria and enzymes, use it for dips, dressings, soups and marinades (try salmon or tempeh).

If you think it's time for a gut cleanse and want the support of a nutritionist to do it, visit www.gmfwellbeing.com/nutrition to find out more about the services offered by Tanya Clarke, our resident expert.

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