The health of your gut has an undeniable effect on the rest of your health, and a lot of common health complaints have origins from poor gut health. The gut, or gastrointestinal system, is made up of; your mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gall bladder, small intestine, large intestine, and the one trillion organisms that make up your gut flora population, called gut microbiota.
What does the gut do?
The first job you’ll probably think of when you hear ‘gut’ is its role in digestion. The gut breaks down and absorbs the food from your diet, and the better your digestion, the more nutrients you can absorb from your food. The gut is also the home of 70-80% of your immune system, so if your gut health is out of whack, symptoms may not just be contained to your gut. The gut is also a major player in the elimination of your waste products, the production of neurotransmitters (such as your happy hormone serotonin), and is the protective barrier between your blood stream and the external world. In addition, the gut communicates with the brain via the gut brain axis. Recent studies have shown the huge effect gut health has on your concentration, and mood.
Good gut health is achieved and maintained with a strong and consistent foundation of habits. Here are my top tips to help you support or improve your gut health from top to bottom.
These days everyone seems to be so busy with careers, demanding social schedules, or hitting the gym and effects of this fast-paced life are starting to show up across the body. So often when we eat, we’re doing it on the run or gulping it down at our desk. This gives our body less time to prepare for digestion, and results in lower amounts of enzymes, stomach acid, and gut peristalsis (movement within the gut to help food travel through it). When we eat this way we also don’t give our body the time it needs to relax during digestion, and as a result blood gets diverted away from the gut and moves to our limbs. Not only does eating quickly give the body less time to produce the resources it needs to digest the food, it also slows the entire process down.
Digestion starts in the mouth, and the less you chew your food, the more work your stomach and other organs have to do. Chewing does not only help break down the food mechanically, but it also allows the food to be coated with saliva, which contains digestive enzymes to further break down the food. Chewing also stimulates the stomach to produce acid and the pancreas to release its contents into the small intestine.
Increase your stomach acid
Your stomach produces hydrochloric acid, which helps to break down food, absorb vitamin B12, kill off harmful pathogens, activate digestive enzymes, and also trigger further steps of digestion. Stomach acid production decreases as we age, but it is also reduced by stress, medications, bacterial infections, zinc deficiency, and stomach surgeries. Low levels of stomach acid can lead to poor nutrient absorption, reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, gastrointestinal infections, and digestive issues such as excessive gas, burping, and bloating. The GLO shots contain apple cider vinegar and are the perfect supplement to take 15 minutes before eating to boost this acidity within the stomach. In addition, they also contain enzymes that help to aid in digestion and promote good health.
Increase diet variety
Within our gut is a little ecosystem of bacteria. I say little, but they account for approximately 2kg of our weight. The types of bacteria present are largely dependent on what you eat and drink, and these little guys play a huge role in our overall health. Studies have shown that having a large diversity of these species is much better for your health. When you become sick, or if you suffer from a chronic disease, the amount of diversity decreases. Research has also found that reduced gut diversity is a major source of inflammation, which can lead to a host of different disease states. Having a diet full of variety helps to build up your gut diversity. To encourage this, aim for seven handfuls of fruit and vegetables each day and 30 different types of plants each week. In addition to the diversity, this will also increase your fibre intake, which is great for elimination and overall gut health.
Limit processed and packaged foods
Most people believe that the first approach to addressing gut issues is to ‘fix the food first’. In other words, change what we eat before trying gut modifying therapies such as probiotics and pre-biotics. Processed foods are a huge part of the western diet, and it is well known that these foods contribute to our ever-growing health issues and negatively affect our gut and its flora. Processed foods contain substances extracted from foods, added from food constituents, or made in a laboratory, and are known to be harmful towards the bacteria living in our gut. Eating whole foods and avoiding processed foods removes the inflammatory foods and provides the gut with the nutrients and fibre that it needs to work efficiently.
Include fermented food daily
Fermented foods are rich in the ‘good’ bacteria that live in our gut, and therefore consuming these foods increases both the number and diversity of our gut flora. Fermented foods include miso, sauerkraut, kombucha, naturally fermented apple cider vinegar, and good quality yoghurt. The Switchel and GLO shots both contain naturally fermented apple cider vinegar, which is aged in oak barrels that contains ‘the mother’. The mother is strands of proteins, enzymes, and friendly bacteria that give the product a murky appearance. These drinks don’t only contain the good bacteria, but they are also a source of prebiotics, which is the food these good bacteria need to grow.
Staying hydrated has many benefits, including promoting gut health. Water is required for numerous breakdown reactions during digestion, the production of saliva, soft stool formation, digestive tract secretions, keeping GI tract walls smooth and flexible, and supporting gut peristalsis.
Include bitter salad leaves
Eating bitter salad leaves activate taste buds that then stimulate the production of enzymes and bile to help with digestion. These leaves also contain a high fibre content, which helps to eliminate waste. Examples of these bitter leaves include; kale, dandelion, and rocket. These leaves are also packed with nutrients that help with liver detoxification, cholesterol regulation, and hormone balancing.
Great gut health doesn’t need to be difficult, and can be achieved and maintained by following the above tips on a daily basis. Experiment with them and find out which ones make the greatest difference to your health and make them a focus. Not only are these tips important for good gut health, but they also support your other organs and body systems by providing good amounts of nutrients and better absorption of these nutrients, as you are what you absorb, not what you eat.
written by Jessica Giljam-Brown Holistic Nutritionalist BSc