All the food we consume is ultimately broken down in the gut to a simpler form that can enter the bloodstream and be delivered as nutrients throughout our bodies. This is only possible with a healthy digestive system and a healthy gut (stomach) microbiome. A healthy gut contains healthy bacteria and immune cells that ward off infectious bacteria, viruses and fungi. A healthy gut also communicates with the brain through the nerves and hormones, which helps maintain general health and wellbeing.
Everyone at some point experiences digestive problems such as abdominal bloating, loose stools, constipation, heartburn, nausea or vomiting. It is very much critical and essential to have a healthy gut as our gut health has an impact on our overall health and wellbeing. Gut health refers to the overall health of your digestive tract and also refers to the balance of microorganisms that live in your digestive tract – “gut microbiome”
There are a number of factors which affect your gut health, ranging from family and genetic history, level of stress and the type of diet you consume. When your gut functions properly there is a good balance of bacteria, helping your body process and get energy from foods you eat, clear toxins and fight against diseases and boost your mood.
Signs of an Unhealthy Gut Health: An unhealthy or unbalanced gut can manifest itself in many ways 1. Recurrent upset stomach and changes in bowel movements –
Frequent discomfort, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and heartburn, could be big signs that your heart is having a hard time processing food and eliminating waste products.
2. You are intolerant to some specific foods: Food Intolerances can be caused by poor quality of bacteria in the gut. You may have a food intolerance if you struggle to digest certain food items/products. This can cause frequent bloating, gas, diarrhea, nausea and abdominal pain.
3. You have extreme food cravings, especially with sugar: Eating too much of sugary food products can cause too much of “bad” bacteria in the gut. High amounts of sugar are likely to cause inflammation and are linked to risk of other diseases.
4. Sleep disturbances and constant fatigue: Unhealthy gut contributes to sleeping difficulty such as insomnia and chronic tiredness or fatigue. The majority of the body's hormone serotonin which regulates mood and sleep is secreted in the gut. An unhealthy gut results in affecting sleep and mood.
5. You have unintentional weight gain or weight loss, when your gut is imbalanced, your body may struggle to absorb nutrients, store fat and regulate blood sugar. Weight loss and weight gain may be caused by bacteria overgrowth or lack of nutrients.
The human gut is much more complex than previously thought and has a huge impact on our overall body. A healthy gut contributes to a strong immune system, heart health, brain health, improved mood, healthy sleep, and effective digestion and it may help prevent acquirement of metabolic diseases. There are a number of lifestyle changes you can make to positively affect your gut health and your overall health as a result.
Things you can do for betterment of your gut health:
Cut back on processed foods
Processed, fast and convenient foods are generally high in salt, sugar, fat and additives. These are all things that can disrupt your gut microbiome, they have the potential to add bad bacteria as well as reducing good bacteria.
Eat mindfully and regularly
A simple yet important way to promote good digestion and therefore good gut health, is to eat slowly and eat regular portions at regular times. It sounds easy, yet with our increasingly busy lives so many of us end up grabbing food on the go or binge eating down meals in front of the TV. Eating at irregular hours, skipping meals, overeating, eating too quickly… All of these things can upset your gut health. And, if you do these things regularly, you may start to see problems. Make a conscious decision to eat mindfully and regularly.
Reduce your stress levels
Chronic high levels of stress are hard on your whole body, including your gut. Some ways to lower stress may include meditation, walking, spending time with friends or family, decreasing caffeine intake, laughing, yoga.
Get enough sleep
Not getting enough sleep or sufficient quality of sleep can have a serious impact on your gut health, which can in turn contribute to more sleep issues. Try to prioritize getting at least 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Eliminate Food Intolerance If certain foods always cause cramping, nausea, or acid reflux, you may have a food intolerance. Try an elimination diet to determine your trigger foods, with the help of a qualified dietician.
Chewing your food thoroughly and eating your meals more slowly can help promote full digestion and absorption of nutrients. This may help reduce digestive discomfort and maintain a healthy gut.
Drinking plenty of water has been shown to have a beneficial effect on the mucosal lining of the intestines, as well as on the balance of good bacteria in the gut. Staying hydrated is very much important for good gut health.
Include Probiotic or Prebiotic Foods: Probiotics promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut. You can take these in vitamin form under the guidance of a Doctor or preferably from natural sources like yogurt, kefir, kombucha and kimchi, curd/ yoghurt, some cheeses and fermented foods. Probiotics and Prebiotics are foods that “fertilise” our existing gut bacteria and encourage the development of a diverse community of microbes.
Eat a fiber rich diet:
Consuming a fiber rich diet that is rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruits and legumes can improve digestive health. A high fiber diet helps to keep food moving through your digestive tract, and can also help you prevent or treat various digestive conditions and gut diseases like acidity, bloating, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome.
It's important to consume both kinds of fiber – soluble fiber and insoluble fiber since they help improve your gut health in different ways. Insoluble fiber known as roughage can’t be digested by the body and therefore adds bulk to the stools. Good sources of Insoluble fiber include wheat bran, vegetables and whole grains. Soluble fiber on the other hand draws in water and can help prevent stools that are too watery. Good sources of Soluble Fiber include Oat Bran, nuts, seeds and legumes.
Move your body regularly:
Getting regular exercise is also an important step into getting your gut health into balance. According to research studies, effects of exercise on the gut microbiome can help increase the amount of bacteria in your digestive tract and contribute to overall bacterial diversity.
Eating is not only of the great pleasures in life but it is also essential to your health and wellbeing. The foods you eat nourish your body, providing you energy and enhancing the function of all your vital organs That is why it is very much essential to maintain a healthy digestive system by consuming the right foods and adopting habits which will help improve gut health.