Our gut is at the centre of our health and is far too often overlooked in the part it plays in all aspects of our health. It is a key factor in our nutrition and in improving performance, energy, body composition, mood and many other very important elements of our wellness. Recent research is demonstrating that the gut is almost like another brain in its link and connection to so many other areas of our bodies mental and physical function.
I wrote a piece previously on digestive enzymes and probiotics relating to the benefits to our digestion and health. However, I wanted to delve a little further into the subject of gut health to really drive home the importance of it regarding our overall wellbeing.
As a nutrition coach my first and foremost areas of focus with my clients are, sleep, hydration, stress and gut health. Getting these areas in order will be key in their health and fitness goals.
Our gastrointestinal tracts work hard to keep us healthy and happy. When gut health is compromised, we can face major health consequences in our overall physical and even mental health.
The gut allows nutrients and water to enter the body while preventing the entry of toxins/antigens. But a distressed gut can’t act in our defense. Instead, it allows dangerous compounds to enter the body.
- A healthy gut barrier depends on:
- balanced intestinal bacteria
- intact mucosa
- healthy immune system (almost 70% of our immune system cells live in or around the gut).
If any of these are unstable, your gut won’t be happy – and you will know about it!
Bacteria can be classed as harmful or helpful. Beneficial bacteria come and go we need to continually replenish them via diet.
Our gut bacteria vary depending on age, gender, diet, geography, hygiene, stress and medication use. Birthing method (C-section vs. vaginal delivery) and first foods (breast milk vs. formula) can also determine what bacteria colonize our gut, with breast milk being an “immunological asset,” because it generally increases the number of friendly bacteria.
Beneficial gut bacteria help manufacture vitamins (B12, K, B6, B5, B3, folate and biotin), enhance absorption of minerals, fight off pathogens, digest food, and metabolize drugs. They even influence total body metabolism and can affect mood due to their link in the formation of neurotransmitters such as Tryptophan (think post turkey happy feels but it also regulates mood, appetite and even sexual desire)
Modern lifestyles, antibiotics, stress, poor nutrition, low iron, insufficient fibre etc. can all eliminate beneficial bacteria in our gut.
We are always in a hurry these days and in our rush to get everywhere fast we tend to rush our meals. This causes poor digestion which in turn also causes problems with our gut health.
Everyone can benefit from introducing some practices to mind their gut. Here are some tips:
- Take your time eating, sit down relax and chew your food fully. This is the first step in good digestion, it begins in our mouth with the production of amylase as we chew and salivate.
- Drink liquid before or after your meal not during as this can disrupt the digestive process. If you are chewing your food properly you should not need to wash it down with water.
- Introduce a Probiotic supplement. Probiotics like Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactic. A probiotic is a good bacterium and is ingested to help reinforce and maintain a healthy gastrointestinal tract and to help fight illness. Aim for 20 billion plus probiotic for daily use.
- Limit/Reduce processed foods that can have an inflammatory effect on your gut.
- Include in your diet substances that are known to heal the gut, like L-glutamine, omega-3 fatty acids (a good fish oil), zinc, antioxidants (in the form of vitamins A, C, and E), aloe Vera, and turmeric. Cinnamon and mint can also be helpful digestive aids.
- Apple cider vinegar (Braggs cloudy). Having a shot of this 15 minutes before your main meals can help promote better digestion.
- Prebiotics help to feed friendly bacteria and allow them to thrive in a healthy environment. Fermented foods include bio-available yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
- PH Balancing or Alkaline Foods – Anything green is generally okay, like kale, spinach, broccoli, wheatgrass, parsley, chlorella, and spirulina. These are all great at keeping high stomach acid levels in order.