How to reset your gut health
The efficiency of your gut is bedrock to good health and research has begun to show that this may go way beyond digestion.
Like a sorting office, your gut is responsible for breaking down food, absorbing nutrients for delivery around the body and then managing waste. In a perfect world this should be a flawless operation, but the reality is that many people experience the side effects of poor digestion which include bloating, excess wind and constipation. Diet and lifestyle also have a role to play in many gut conditions including IBS.
The term ‘microbiome’ refers to an ecosystem of microorganisms that live in and around the body, most of which reside in your gut. These microbes act as a protective barrier against foreign invaders with the potential to harm our health. We all have a unique microbiome comparable to our fingerprint which is defined by the environment both within and around us.
The bacteria found in our gut are essential for efficient digestion and also help to digest antioxidant polyphenols (shown to help reduce the risk of disease) and synthesise vitamins such as B12, D, folic acid and thiamine.
New and evolving research has also begun suggesting that the diversity of bacteria in your gut may even influence mental health and play a role in obesity by way of the gut-brain axis.
The importance of fibre
Foods high in fibre include wholegrains, pulses, beans, lentils, vegetables, nuts, seeds and dried fruit. This nutrient influences the transit of food through the digestive tract and has also been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. However, according to findings from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey it appears that most of us do not get enough fibre in our diet as only 10% of adults eat the recommended 30g per day.
Top tips to reset your gut
Whilst many of these tips may seem simple, the fact is that many people are still not doing what it takes to keep their gut healthy. Try them all for a complete gut heath reset.
1. Ditch the white
Choosing wholegrain varieties of bread, pasta and rice over white varieties is one of the simplest steps to help improve the health of your gut. Wholegrain varieties of these staple foods have much more fibre assisting with the transit of food through the gut and helping to reduce the risk of constipation.
2. Love your wholegrains
These include oats, brown rice, barley and rye. Unlike refined (processed) grains the bran and germ remain intact so they are higher in fibre and other key nutrients. Pseudo-grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth are also high in fibre and can make an interesting alternative to traditional grains.
3. Get down with pulses, beans and lentils
These foods are not a common choice but are one of the richest sources of dietary fibre. Hugely versatile, they can be used as a base for vegetarian meals or added to salads, soups, one-pot dishes and made into dips. If you’re new to these foods, then introduce them slowly as they can cause a little bloating at first.
4. Beef up on veggies
Regardless of how many times we are told to eat more vegetables, less than a third of the population actually eat five-a-day. Vegetables are rich in fibre and in some cases this fibre act as a prebiotic supporting the growth of bacteria in the gut (see below). If bloating is an issue then you may want to steer clear of eating large amounts of typically ‘windy’ vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and sprouts.
5. Eat probiotic foods
Probiotics are bacteria shown to have a beneficial effect supporting a healthy microbiome. Recognised strains include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium and can be found in live yoghurt and probiotic shot drinks. Fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi and sauerkraut are also beneficial for gut health and contain many different strains of bacteria. You may also want to include a probiotic supplement in your five-day reset Choose one that contains recognised strains and a dose of at least 10 billion bacteria per capsule.
6. Eat prebiotic foods
Prebiotics are types of fibre that cannot be digested and help to cultivate a healthy microbiome by helping gut bacteria to flourish. Gut bacteria break these fibres down by fermentation to produce short chain fatty acids that supply energy to the cells that line your colon. Foods rich in prebiotics include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats and barley. Starchy foods such as pasta, rice and potatoes, which have been cooked and left to cool form resistant starches that also act as prebiotics in the gut.
7. Eat mindfully and manage your stress
Pay attention to the way you eat as this can seriously impact on your digestive system. Adopt mindful eating techniques like chewing your food slowly, sitting down to eat and putting your knife and fork down between mouthfuls. Serve smaller portions of food in a single sitting and avoid eating too close to bedtime as this can encourage reflux and heartburn. Make sure you also eat regularly as skipping meals or going long periods without eating can encourage bloating. Learn to manage your stress as this can affect movement and contraction of the GI tract and is also considered to be a risk factor for Irritable Bowel Syndrome.
Rob Hobson is a registered nutritionist (BSc, MSc, AFN), published author and food writer. Rob has 15 years of experience working with some of the UK’s leading food companies, government agencies, NHS and private clients as well as regularly writing in the media for publications including the Daily Mail online.
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