How to Look After Your Gut Through Your Diet
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?
As well as being responsible for the digestion and absorption of nutrients, the gut plays an important role in maintaining the body's overall health and well-being.
The Immune SystemThe gut regulates immune function through the intestinal epithelial barrier. In fact studies show 70% of your immune health is driven by your gut.
The gut helps maintain a balanced gut microbiome and is responsible for absorbing nutrients that support the immune system such as vitamins A, C, and D, and minerals like zinc and selenium. As well as acting as a physical barrier that prevents harmful pathogens from entering your bloodstream, the gut produces antimicrobial peptides that help protect against invading pathogens.
The gut is responsible for the proper absorption of nutrients that are crucial for good brain function whilst microorganisms that live in the gut are responsible for producing serotonin and dopamine which are essential in regulating mood and cognition. A balanced gut microbiome also helps to regulate the body’s stress response, reducing the risk of stress negatively impacting brain function and mental health.
The gut has a role in supporting the synthesis and balance of our hormones such as oestrogen, thyroid hormones, serotonin, and melatonin. An imbalance in the gut’s microbiome can cause the reabsorption of certain hormones or encourage their excretion, causing a deficiency or dominance in certain hormones and thus a hormonal imbalance which can lead to various health issues.
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How to Rebalance and Improve Your Gut HealthThere are some dietary and lifestyle changes that you can make to help promote a balanced gut microbiome, reduce inflammation and support your digestive system to improve your gut health. By eating a diverse, high-fibre diet that consists of a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and seeds can promote the development of good bacteria in the gut. Eating fermented foods such as yoghurt, kimchi and miso are another example of foods that contain probiotics which contribute to gut health. You should also limit the amount of processed foods that you are consuming to prevent inflammation. Taking probiotic supplements alongside a healthy diet and lifestyle may also contribute to a healthy gut.
Making sure that you are drinking enough water throughout the day, sticking to a regular sleep schedule, exercising regularly and managing stress by meditating, breathing exercises or participating in hobbies that you enjoy are some of the lifestyle changes that you can make to help rebalance your gut health.
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 improving our gut health 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 and 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.
Learn more in our blog: What are probiotics?
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!
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 and 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. Discover some great recipes here.
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.
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.
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.
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! Try our delicious Vegan Gingerbread Cookies recipe.
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. 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 hope you have enjoyed reading our nutrition tips for gut health and we welcome any questions you have @drveganco on facebook and instagram.
If you enjoyed reading, you may also enjoy Nutrition for Working Out and The benefits of Choline and where to find it.
Worst Foods for Gut Health
There are some foods that have the potential to disrupt the balance of gut microbiota and promote inflammation that are generally considered to be bad for your gut and overall health.
Consuming lots of refined sugars, artificial sweeteners and trans fats can negatively impact gut microbiota and promote inflammation. Processed foods tend to contain lots of these refined sugars, unhealthy fats and preservatives and can negatively impact your gut health. Excessive consumption of alcohol can also have the potential to damage the gut lining and impair the ability to absorb important nutrients. Your gut can also find it difficult to digest lots of fried and greasy foods which can contribute to discomfort and inflammation.
Individuals with sensitivities to certain foods should take extra care with what they eat in order to maintain a healthy gut. Foods such as wheat, barley and rye that contain gluten can damage the gut lining of those who have celiac disease and there are similar effects for those who are lactose intolerant and consume dairy products. High-FODMAP foods such as onions, garlic, legumes and certain fruits can also cause digestive issues for those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Whilst there are some general rules of what types of foods are the worst for maintaining a healthy gut, it’s important to note that individual reactions can vary and if you suspect that a food is negatively affecting your health then you should consult a healthcare professional.
In summary, gut health is important for your immune system, brain and hormone health and overall wellbeing. Adopting a healthy lifestyle by regularly exercising, staying hydrated and managing stress whilst eating a balanced diet that avoids processed foods and incorporates fibre can be supported with supplements in order to promote a healthy gut.___________________________________________________________________
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.
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