By Patricia Romero (Contributing Writer for GetTheDose)
How does the gut regulate health?
When talking about gut health, we are referring to the balance of thousands of microorganisms living in the digestive tract. These are of great importance to our health, as there are more bacteria in the intestines than there are cells in the body. On the basis of cell numbers alone, it has been claimed we are 10% human and 90% bacteria.
These good bacteria (microbiome) help regulate everything from immune health, mood and weight. Gut Health is one of the most talked about wellness topics right now, and rightly so - the gut is frequently referred to as "the second brain"!
The majority of people have at least 700 species of bacteria living in their intestines at any one time. Approximately 85% of normal gut flora is made up of good bacteria: the kind that are beneficial to us because they perform useful actions like synthesising vitamins or breaking down food to release energy. The other 15% is made up of potentially pathogenic ‘bad’ bacteria which can cause disease if they get out of control. These bad bacteria can affect everything from our mental health to our immune system, causing autoimmune diseases, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, and more.
The role of food in health and wellbeing
With the complexity of our system, making sure our microbiome is healthy is a balancing act but there are some simple steps we can take to make sure our gut health is in good shape, and it all begins with our diet.
Food equips us with fuel to function and a whole host of nutrients to support this function and to grow, heal, repair and live. Food is made up of macronutrients - Protein, Fat and Carbohydrates which contribute energy (kilojoules/ calories) to our diet as well as supporting vital bodily roles and functions. Food is also made up of a variety of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), and other compounds such as phytonutrients, that are vital to us functioning properly.
All foods exist with their own unique set of nutrients and micronutrients – while different foods with similarities can be grouped together, no food is created equal. So in order to receive the full benefits from foods we need to incorporate many different foods into our diet.
What and how should we eat to improve our gut health?
Many aspects of modern life such as high stress levels, too little sleep, eating processed and high-sugar foods, and taking antibiotics can be damaging to our gut microbiome. As a result, this may effect other facets of our health, such as the brain, heart, immune system, skin, weight, hormone levels, and ability to absorb nutrients.
Diet plays a major part in the management of a plethora of conditions and illnesses but it is not only important what we eat, but also how we eat. Ensuring that we have a positive attitude towards food and using it to interact with one another in communities is as important as eating unprocessed foods. In fact, there is not one perfect solution to prevent or treat a condition, but rather some broader principles to adhere to and adopt the ones that work best or you as an individual:
Top 10 Tips for Gut Health
- Add diversity to your diet. Eat the rainbow - the more colours, the merrier!
- Vary what you eat from day to day and season to season. Seasonal foods have been shown to contain more nutrients as they are locally produced and can be picked when ripe.
- Eat more fibre - your gut loves it!
- Get creative and have fun with what you eat. Maybe try and create a brand new recipe from what you have sitting in the fridge.
- Eat meals that are abundant in flavour
- Experiment with nuts, seeds and whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits
- Load up on prebiotic foods, including fresh fruit, vegetables, and legumes, which are highly beneficial for your intestinal microflora. These foods contain a fibre that we are unable to digest which good bacteria love.
- Try fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and kefir which are a source of probiotics and prebiotics, as well as cultured yogurt. Many store-bought versions of fermented foods are pasteurised and do not contain any live bacteria, so be careful and check the label or even make your own fermented foods at home.
- Chew your food thoroughly - it can aid digestion
- Avoid processed food where possible