What does the gut do?
To put it simply, bacteria in the gut affects the body throughout life by controlling processes such as the digestion of food, the immune system and the central nervous system. With almost 1,000 species of bacteria in the gut microbiome, each of which plays a different role, it might be no surprise they can overall weigh as much as 1-2kg – or roughly the weight of your brain.
Good bacteria in the gut microbiome also helps to keep the bad bacteria in check. A healthy balance is therefore desirable. Studies have even shown that if there is too much of a certain kind of bad bacteria, you’re more likely to suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s disease.
Finally, research has demonstrated that the balance of bacteria in the gut affects your emotions. Anxiety, depression, chronic pain can all result from a poor diet.
Ways to keep your gut healthy:
There are a few methods to improve the health of your gut and, if you’re like me and don’t particularly fancy a fecal transplant (unfortunately, exactly what it sounds like), read on to see what best ways there are to ensure a healthy balance.
1) Get enough sleep
Perhaps the one solution for everything. Just like a lack of sleep is detrimental to overall health, it also has a serious impact on your gut. Not only can it increase stress, leading to a hormone imbalance and intestinal permeability issues, but it can also affect dietary choices like going for unhealthy food in anticipation of a quick energy boost. Furthermore, you should try not to eat within three hours of going to bed, otherwise you will burden the body with digestion and absorption whilst you’re sleeping.
2) Eat slowly
The sight and smell of food alone triggers signals from your brain to your digestive system that it’s time to eat. This starts the production of saliva which contains enzymes to break down food. Not only this, but eating slowly also helps create the feeling of fullness, making you less likely to overeat. Research has found that people who eat quickly are more likely to be overweight or obese, and have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
Fat is definitely not a bad word, and the types of fat in your diet ultimately affect the health and composition of your gut flora. Unhealthy fats, such as the saturated and trans kinds, are typically found in processed foods, fried foods and desserts. Good fats, such as those that are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated, are found in avocados, certain nuts, oily fish and some oils like olives and rapeseed.
4) Include prebiotic and probiotic foods in your diet
You’ve probably seen these two terms plastered on advertising for yoghurts or kefir and wondered what on earth they were. Well, probiotics are healthy bacteria, whilst prebiotics help to feed them. As with nutrients, it’s far better to get both from your diet rather than from supplements. Foods containing prebiotics include Leeks, Spinach, Bananas and Asparagus whilst those containing probiotics include Kimchi, Miso and Pickles.
5) Eat more fibre and vegetables
As with most functions of the body, the best way to help your microbiome flourish is to eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables – at least 5 a day though more is better. Added to this, by ingesting foods high in fibre such as wholegrain bread, nuts, peas, beans, pulses, berries and broccoli, you’ll be able to meet the daily recommended intake of 30g. High fibre diets are associated with greater balance in the gut microbiome.