Five Factors for Good Gut Health
Probiotics have done the rounds for long enough I say! Just kidding, probiotics are fabulous & so important. They help treat a myriad of health conditions however unfortunately probiotics are transient in the gut (meaning they don’t cultivate/stay there for long) therefore for sustainable long-term gut health prebiotics pack way more punch. A pre-biotic is a non-digestible dietary fibre which is defined as a:
“a selectively fermented ingredient that allows specific changes, both in the composition and/or activity in the gastrointestinal microbiota, that confer benefits upon the host”.
Meaning they enhance the growth of the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract, providing essential fuel to help them thrive. These bacterial strains in our guts have influence over may aspects of health include gut motility & regular elimination of wastes (no more constipation, yes!), production of enzymes to break-down food, detoxification, immune health, protection from infection & even production of neuro-chemicals that impact our mood, motivation, sleep & energy. The gut isn’t referred to a the second brain for nothing, it has influence over so much!
You can read more about the benefits of prebiotics here.
Great sources of prebiotic fibre include:
Vegetables - especially starchy veggies (but literally EAT.THEM.ALL)
Green Banana Flour
Beans, Legumes & Lentils
Grains (as close to natural state as possible - i.e. steel cuts oats instead of quick oats).
Stress has an enormous impact on our digestion & our ability to breakdown food efficiently. This is largely due to what is know as the gut-brain axis. When we become stressed we activate the fight-or-flight response which directly impacts our capacity to digest food by diverting the bodies energy & blood supply towards organs systems needed to face a perceived threat. So AWAY from the digestive tract & TOWARD the heart, limbs & lungs. The opposite effects occurs we are not stressed, hence the term rest-and-digest.
Stress has also been shown to negatively impact a number of beneficial bacteria including Bifidobacterium & Lactobacilli in the gut, overtime this can create significant disruption in the balance of good & bad bacteria within the digestive tract.
Activities that help us de-stress include:
Exercise (not only is movement amazing for improving gut motility & bowel elimination but for mitigating the impacts of chronic stress)
Take a bath (trying adding some magnesium salts & lavender essential oil)
Meditation (just 10 minutes per day) & Yoga
Catching up with a friend or loved one
Reading a book
Getting out into nature
Doing anything just for the simple pleasure of it
Learn more about the impacts of stress on the body here.
This plays straight into the above point. We can’t digest properly when our body is over stimulated or stressed. Mindful eating is basically the act of sitting & eating whilst quiet literally just focusing on eating. Not watching TV or YouTube, scrolling through Instagram or worse yet eating on the run. For optimal digestion it’s really important we take the time to sit down, relax, breathe & enjoy the food we are eating.
The act of eating involves a complex series of hormonal signals between the gut & nervous system. Sending signals for both hunger & satiety. It takes around 20 minutes for the brain to register satiety. Meaning if you are eating on the run or whilst stressed you aren’t really able to register when your actually full & usually end up overeating as a result. When we take the time to sit down & focus on eating not only are we able to digest properly but can stop when we are truly full & give ourselves a much needed break.
Water, water, water
Hydration is ESSENTIAL for optimal digestive health as it helps our body eliminate toxins & prevent constipation. Adequate water (at least 1.5-2L filtered water daily) intake both hydrates (softens) the stool & lubricates the intestinal walls, making it easier for you body to pass a bowel motion.
Put down the Snack
Yes that right! Snacking can really become a problem where digestive health is concerned. We live in a culture where snacking has almost become second to breathing. The main disadvantage of continuous snacking is that the digestive system is put to work all day with no break & no opportunity to rest. Unfortunately overtime for some people this can create a sluggish & irritated digestive tract. Three main meals a day really should be plenty for most people.
If you find that you really struggle to get through until lunch & dinner without reaching for a snack first start having a look at exactly how substantial your meals are. Protein, especially, should make up at least 30% of your meal in order to keep you satiated, to this we add some nourishing healthy fats (i.e. avocado, olive oil, nuts, seeds) & complex carbohydrates (vegetables, beans, grains, etc.). By no mean am I suggesting that you should never ever snack because obviously if you are genuinely hungry you should honour your bodies signals without question. However I would recommend that if you are a serial snacker then it’s important to first ensure you are:
having a substantial enough meal with enough protein to keep you going
in fact hungry not jut bored & habitually eating
At the end of the day having great digestive health really comes back to keeping it simple. Eating an abundance of healthy plant-foods, staying hydrated, daily movement, sitting down to eat & not being so damn stressed. Sounds simple enough right?
Wanna learn more?….Have a read of the research!
Foster, J, Rinaman, L & Cryan, J 2017, Stress & the gut-brain axis: Regulation by the Microbiome, Neurobiology of Stress
Mindful Eating by Harvard Health Letter by Hardvard University
Slavin, J 2013, Fiber & Prebiotics: Mechanisms and Health Benefits, Nutrients, Vol. 5, No. 4
Popkin, B, Dánci, K & Irwin, H 2010, Water, Hydration & Health, Nutrition Reviews