Gut Health Series - What Helps Gut Health?
Our gut is home to billions of bacteria that feed on the foods that we eat. Although bacteria is found throughout our body, our gut bacteria has the maximum impact on our wellbeing. This is why the type of bacteria that inhabits the gut becomes even more important. It can affect our metabolism, our moods and our resistance to diseases and illnesses. The more diverse the gut bacteria are, the better they are able to digest different types of food effectively and fight off diseases. The gut is therefore, the focal point for optimal health.
Maintaining good gut health, essentially means maintaining a healthy gut flora i.e. keeping the good bacteria in our gut alive and well. The most important way to improve gut bacteria is via our food habits. A diet containing a wide variety of healthy foods can lead to a more diverse microbiome. Diet is the primary shaper of the gut microbiome.
Prebiotics and Probiotics are commonly known as stuff that is good for digestion and gut health. They help maintain a good balance of the bacteria in the gut. So what are they?
Prebiotics and Probiotics:
Prebiotic is basically fibre, the non digestible part of some foods. It is found in wheat bran, oats, onions, garlic, bananas, apple skin, barley, etc. Prebiotic fibre goes through the small intestine undigested. It then gets fermented when it reaches the large colon and feeds the good bacteria in the gut while promoting the increase of the friendly bacteria there. Thus it improves gut health and reduces the risk of diseases by boosting our immunity.
Probiotic is the live beneficial bacteria that are naturally found in fermented foods. For example, yoghurt, kimchi, kefir (a milk drink), idli, paneer (Indian cheese), dark chocolate (in small amounts), pickled vegetables like cucumber in vinegar, etc. Probiotics are known to improve the digestive health, immune system health and improve the absorption of nutrients from foods.
Note: Probiotics are excellent if there is a bacterial infection that has disrupted the gut bacteria. However, a lot of people today pop probiotics supplements when they feel bloated. But, bloating can also be caused by sleep deprivation, dehydration, etc. In such cases probiotics are not the solution. The gut has an ecosystem of its own. The air, the weather, anxiety, thought process, all have an impact on gut health. Therefore, probiotic supplements need to be decided based on the individual’s symptoms. It is best to speak to a doctor before beginning any probiotic regimen.
Other Nutrition tips and guidelines to improve gut health are as follows:
Eat a diverse range of natural foods to help you populate your gut with micronutrients. Choose vegetables and fruits in a range of different colours.
Eat good fats. Healthy fats support gut immune function.
Use natural spices and herbs in food preparations. They not only add flavour to foods, but are also rich in phytochemicals that may support gut bacteria diversity.
Eat fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, yoghurt and kefir.
Get enough prebiotic fibre by including foods like garlic, onions, bananas, apples, oats, flax seeds, etc. in your diet.
Limit refined carbohydrates, processed foods, fried foods, high sugar foods as well as artificial sweeteners. These can lead to an imbalance of bacteria in the gut.
Fasting (for at least 10 - 12 hours) is known to improve gut health. It gives the system a break to repopulate and use its own intelligence. However, people who are on medications, for example diabetics, need to check with their doctor before trying fasting.
Limit alcohol intake. Alcohol inhibits the ability of our gut to absorb vital nutrients from foods we eat.
Avoid fad diets and quick weight loss strategies. These can cause harmful long-term consequences for your health, gut, and microbiome.
Ensure you get good quality sleep everyday. Disturbed sleep can cause gastrointestinal issues. Lack of sleep can also affect our food choices and in turn, the microbes in our gut.
Stay physically active and get regular exercise in your daily routine.
Manage stress with relaxing activities like yoga, breathing exercises and meditation.
Maintain good dental hygiene. It has been found that harmful forms of bacteria that grow in the mouth often make their way into the gut or even the bloodstream. Regular brushing can keep those potentially harmful microbes in check-and your gut bacteria in balance.
For better immunity, efficient digestion, improved mental health and clarity, focus on building your Gut Health. Healthy microbiome helps with good digestion and prevents the disease causing bacteria from sticking to the intestinal walls. A healthy gut means you have a stronger immune system, a better mood, effective digestion that’s free of discomfort and a healthy brain and heart.