Why is good gut health important for your overall wellbeing?
Our gut is loaded with bacteria, a diverse ecology that’s known as the microbiome. In fact researchers estimate that we have 100 trillion bacteria living inside of us. It may be hard to fathom but that means that there’s ten times more bacteria within you than human cells - a clue as to just how important they are!
Supporting your body from the inside out isn’t hard to do. Nourishing with gut healthy foods can help you achieve better digestion, better immunity and even better shape. Here’s how:
Maintaining well balanced gut bacteria is vitally important for regular bowel movements.
What’s my number one dietary tip for helping your digestion?
This is simple, eat more fibre. Fundamentally fibre supports all aspects of digestion, with the added bonus of helping you feel fuller for longer.
There are different types of fibre, classically known as soluble and insoluble fibre. Soluble fibre, also called fermentable fibre, absorbs water and can “expand” in our stomachs - hence if we eat a bowl of porridge in the morning we tend to feel quite full until lunch time. Healthy bacteria in your gut also feed on fermentable fibre which acts as a wonderful booster, like putting fertilizer onto your garden.
To increase your intake, choose a wholefoods diet of plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, plus healthy whole grains such as oats. Remember, oats can be taken in many forms, from hot porridge, Bircher muesli or overnight oats to versatile oatcakes.
Oats are not only inexpensive and easy to find, but oats also contains a special type of fibre called beta-glucan which has been proven to lower bad (LDL) cholesterol.
Your gut and your immune system are closely connected. In fact, it’s estimated that approximately 80% of your immune system is located in your gut. So if you want to avoid next season’s flu, it pays to keep your gut well nourished.
One way to support this is by adding kefir (pronounced ‘kee-fer’) to your diet, a fermented food with probiotic powers. It originates from Eastern Europe and the name comes from the Turkish word for ‘good feeling’ – so it’s no surprise that it’s top of my list of immune boosting, gut healthy foods.
Kefir is made by fermenting dairy or plant/nut milk with kefir ‘grains’. The ‘grains’ provide a live colony of bacteria which feed on the sugar in the milk to create a slightly sour tasting yogurt drink which is hugely beneficial for our gut bacteria.
In addition to being a source of beneficial bacteria, kefir has other nutritional benefits which will vary depending on the type of milk used. But most types of kefir contain good levels of protein, calcium, potassium, magnesium and B-vitamins – all essential nutrients for overall health and wellbeing.
There’s a growing amount of research that suggests your balance of gut bacteria actually influences food cravings, metabolism, and even how many calories your body extracts from the food you eat.
It might sound far fetched but the species of bacteria in people who are slim are different to those who are obese. Various studies have shown that obese individuals have about 20 percent more of a bacteria strain called firmicutes. Firmicutes help the body pull calories from complex sugars and turn those calories into fat.
So, how can you get a so-called skinny gut? Simple, cut down on sugar.
Sugar is a disrupter of gut health. Reducing your intake of sugar will help overall gut health and will cut out those empty calories, a win win!
Not all sugar is created equal though. You need to monitor what are known as ‘free sugars’ - that is any sugar added to a food or drink or the sugar that is already in honey, syrup or similar natural sweeteners, and fruit juice. Free sugars should account for no more than five percent of your overall dietary intake. These are called free because they're not inside the cells of the food we eat. The sugars found naturally in fruit, milk or vegetables don't have the same negative effect as they come with extra nutrients, such as fibre.