Our gut is vital for so many functions within our body and has a key role in our overall health. Grace Carey-Caton, Nutritionist, Gut Health & Hormone Health Specialist discusses the importance of gut health and what foods we can add into our diets to support our gut health every day.
What Is Gut Health?
‘Gut Health’, it’s the talk of the town and increasingly used in the food and health industry. We know gut health is important for our overall health, but what exactly does ‘Gut Health’ mean?
Gut health refers to the physical state and function of the whole digestive system including the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract such as the oesophagus, stomach, and the intestines.
Having a 'healthy gut' describes multiple positive effects of the function of the digestive system such as digestion of food, absorption of nutrients, the balance of microbes, an effective immune system, the absence of gut disorders and the state of overall wellbeing.
Why is Gut Health Important
Our gut health not only contributes to the function of our actual digestive system, it also contributes to many other areas of our health, including:
- Hormone Health: The gut has a role in supporting the balance of our hormones such as oestrogen, thyroid hormones, serotonin, and melatonin.
Which Foods Support Gut Health?
Now we understand what the term 'Gut Health' means and its importance to our brain, immune and hormone health, it’s time to talk about how we can optimise our digestive system and take care of our gut through our diets.
Probiotics & Prebiotics
Probiotics are classified as live microorganisms, that when consumed in adequate amounts offer a health benefit. Probiotics can be taken in supplement form or can be found within some fermented foods.
Food tips: add fermented foods to your diet such as natural live yoghurt, kefir, kombucha, miso, sauerkraut and kimchi.
Kimchi is one of our recommended foods in 5 foods to improve your mood.
Prebiotics are specific plant fibres that stimulate the growth of the bacteria (probiotics) in the gut. Essentially, they feed our microbes and help them to thrive!
Food tips: to increase prebiotics in your diet add in foods such as banana, asparagus, artichoke, apples, onions, and garlic.
Fibre Rich Foods
Fibre is essential for the health of our gut. It supports the digestive system by keeping bowel movements regular and feeding our gut microbes.
There are two types of fibre – soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Both have a different function on the gut and different benefits, and getting a mix of both is key to getting the most out of this nutrient. Here are some of the most fibre rich foods to include to gain the benefits of a fibre-friendly diet:
Plant Based Proteins
Plant based proteins including beans, lentils, chickpeas, nuts & seeds are some of the richest sources of dietary fibre. They are a great source of protein too and they make an excellent vegetarian meal base for plant-based diets (and meat eaters too!).
Food tips: Plant based proteins can easily be added to dishes such as curries, soups, stews, or salads.
If you're unsure if you're gaining enough protein you may like to fill in your Diet Profile for free, giving you an insight into your current diet and nutrient intake.
Fruits & Vegetables
Eating a diet filled with a wide variety of fruits and vegetables is a simple way to bump up your fibre intake.
Studies have shown that including 10 different portions of fruits and vegetables a day, rather than the usual 5, is considered optimal to support us against diseases and disorders.
Food tips: eat a rainbow choice of fruit and vegetable colours in order to maximise your nutrient intake!
Flax seeds are very high in fibre in both forms; insoluble (which provides bulk to the stool) and soluble (which binds with water to keep movements soft). Therefore, they’re a great tool to support constipation.
Food tip: If you suffer with constipation try adding ground flax seeds to your diet daily to support regularity.
Do you know what the difference is between white grains and wholegrains? White grains (also known as simple carbohydrates) are put through a process to remove the bran and germ (the fibre), whereas wholegrains contain all parts of the grain and are left in their natural fibre packed state. The inner germ of grains also contains important vitamins, minerals, lignans, and phytochemicals.
Food tips: make the switch from white (simple) carbs to the mighty wholegrains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, wholewheat pasta, rye bread or oats to optimise your fibre intake.
If you're unsure about whether your current diet meets your recommended daily nutrient intake, try the Diet Profile. It takes 3 minutes to complete, for free, all online.
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
Omega 3 fatty acids are useful in the diet to decrease whole body inflammation but they have also been shown to offer targeted support to the gut.
Omega-3 essential fatty acids have the potential for pain and inflammation reduction and support normal levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), an inflammatory marker.
A recent study has also shown that people who frequently eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids have more bacterial diversity in the gut microbiome which promotes overall improved digestive health.
Food tip: To optimise omega 3 rich foods in the diet, regularly add in flax seeds & chia seeds to your diet, or sustainable oily fish (salmon / mackerel / trout / sardines / anchovies).
Digestive Enzyme Aids
When we consume food and liquids our bodies break them down into simpler forms for us to process. Digestive enzymes are necessary for this process as they break down the molecules in proteins, fats and carbohydrates into smaller molecules that can be absorbed.
When the body is unable to make enough digestive enzymes the digestive process can become impaired. However, there are some foods that are high in natural digestive enzymes which can support to enhance this process. These include:
Ginger contains a digestive enzyme known as zingibain which helps the body to breakdown and digest proteins. It has also been shown to increase overall digestive enzyme production in the body. Ginger supports with gastric emptying (aiding the digestive system to empty faster) so it provides all-round gut health support.
Food tip: ginger can help to release pressure and tension in the gut. It can be a great tool for bloating so look to add ginger to your cooking, in your water or make a fresh ginger tea!
When eaten at the start of a meal, bitter foods can stimulate peristalsis - the movement that aids digestion. Bitter foods support gut health by stimulating bile production and bile helps us to break down fats.
Food tips: add a big handful of bitter greens such as rocket, watercress, or radicchio to the start of your meals to aid digestion.
Curcumin and Turmeric also support digestion, as well as having acclaimed anti-inflammatory properties to ease joint ache. DR.VEGAN® Organic Curcumin & Turmeric (3300mg), with standardised extract of 95% Curcumin (200mg), is a high strength, more potent and more absorbable formula than standard Turmerics, helping protect your joints and supporting your digestive function.
We truly hope you have enjoyed reading our nutrition tips for gut health and we welcome any questions you have @drveganco on facebook and instagram.
Written by Grace Carey-Caton (mBANT) (rCNHC), a Nutritionist and Gut Health & Hormone Health specialist for DR.VEGAN. Grace offers bespoke programmes to support you to rebalance your hormones and optimise your gut health.
Discover our range of vegan vitamins and supplements.
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