Your gut instinct or intuition is your immediate understanding of something, there is no need to think it over you just know. The gut microbiome or the second brain as it is sometimes referred to is the center of your immune system. It is here that our overall wellness is maintained and where the vagus nerve (a cranial nerve that lies in your neck), acts as a walkie-talkie to tell your brain how you are feeling. This is done via electric impulses signaling back and forth; “I’m hungry”, “I don’t feel well”, “Something isn’t right?” Your gut feelings are very real and we should listen to these little whispers of information. Perhaps then our bodies wouldn’t need to scream at us from time to time.
So, having a healthy immune system is how we fight viruses, prevent autoimmune diseases, cancer, endocrine disorders, skin conditions, control your mood and balance your overall mental health. The immune system is made not born. Yes, we do inherit some of the microorganisms living in our gut (on average we have 300-500 different types) but we can rebuild and develop the health of these good bacteria with the right input.
So how do we figure out if our gut health is in top condition? Well, firstly let’s ask ourselves a few questions?
A good place to start is, do you have any stomach disturbances like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, or heartburn? These can all be signs of an unhealthy gut and food intolerances. A balanced gut that processes food and eliminates waste optimally wouldn’t suffer these symptoms.
Do you have a high sugar diet? If so, put down the biscuit! I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news but unfortunately, sugar is the bad guy here. A diet high in processed foods and added sugars can decrease the number of good bacteria in your gut and lead to further sugar cravings and potentially result in increased inflammation in the body. This can be a precursor to several diseases including cancer.
Inflammation in the gut caused by poor diet or undiagnosed food allergies can cause leaky gut (leaking of certain bacteria and toxins into the bloodstream). This can irritate the skin and cause skin conditions like eczema and autoimmune diseases like psoriasis.
Unintentional Weight Changes? Gaining weight without making any changes in your diet and exercise can be a sign of an imbalanced gut. This could be caused by insulin resistance (insulin is the hormone secreted by the pancreas and it controls your blood sugars) and overeating because of decreased nutrient absorption, thus storing fat.
Do you suffer from sleep disturbances or constant fatigue? Serotonin (the key hormone to stabilizing your mood and help you sleep) is produced in the gut so an unhealthy gut balance can contribute to insomnia or poor sleep.
If any of the above concerns you, it is always recommended you seek medical advice and reassurance.
So if you have answered yes to any of the above questions then it’s time to implement a few changes in your diet and get back to your sense of well-being and optimum gut health. We recommend the following 10 steps:
1. Increase your fibre intake by eating up to 30 different plant-based foods a week (recommended daily fibre intake is 30 grams a day for adults) such as fruits, starchy vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. Beans, peas, oats, bananas, berries, asparagus, and leeks have also shown a positive impact on gut health in numerous studies.
2. Fermented foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, tempeh, miso, and kefir are great dietary sources of probiotics. While the quality of these foods may vary, their benefits on the gut microbiome are well studied.
3. If you can’t tolerate fermented foods, several studies suggest that the best way to restore your body’s gut flora and boost your immune system is by taking a quality probiotic supplement every day. Our bodies are made up of about 39 trillion bacteria and most of these live in your gut. Finding the right supplement can be challenging so when buying your supplement, you should seek one that has strains of both Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus and contain around 10 billion CFU (colony forming unit).
4. Try cutting down or even better removing processed foods such as milk chocolate, and added sugar to your tea or coffee. There are so many health benefits from removing these foods from your diet including weight loss, reduced cholesterol, blood pressure, heart disease, and more.
5. Eating your food more slowly will help digestion and absorption of nutrients as part of the digestive process starts in your mouth. There are several other studies conducted all over the world that associate chewing longer with burning more calories, reduced consumption of food, and heightened energy levels.
6. Stay hydrated and increase your water intake. Studies have shown that drinking plenty of water is beneficial for the lining of your intestines which will help balance your gut health. Drinking enough water each day is crucial for many reasons, from regulating your body temperature, joint lubrication, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated also improves sleep quality, cognition, mood, and skin health.
7. Eat more polyphenols, poly what? They are plant compounds that make their way to your colon where they are digested by your gut bacteria. These foods include cocoa or dark chocolate (cocoa will also increase skin density which can aid in protecting you from UV rays), red wine (yay!!), grape skins, almonds, onions, blueberries, and broccoli.
8. Collagen-rich foods such as salmon are also beneficial to overall gut health. Boosting your body’s collagen production through food could also increase levels of hyaluronic acid which is important for skin health. You need Vitamin C and amino acids (proteins) to make procollagen. Foods in this group would be legumes, mushrooms, tofu and if you eat meat, lean meat, poultry, seafood, and dairy are other excellent sources of amino acids. The more collagen your body has the more it can produce and when collagen levels are healthy, cells that contain collagen take on a strong and youthful appearance.
9. Sleeping 7-9 hours each night will have a positive impact on your gut health. The importance of getting enough sleep is paramount for your mental health and well-being. Did you know that your skin cells restore themselves precisely between the hours of 10 pm and 2 am each night? This is due to a sharp increase in the growth hormone in the first third of our sleep phase. So not only will getting a good night’s sleep to restore your gut biome but it will also help your skin renew itself. Winning! You can read more about how to get a better nights sleep in our blog “sleep is the elixir of life”.
10. Lastly, lower your stress levels. Excess cortisol breaks down collagen which not only damages your skin but it also damages your gut health. Try reading our blog on meditation techniques to destress your life. Studies have shown the changes in brain activity in subjects who have learned to meditate hold steady even when they’re not meditating, enabling them to maintain a balanced emotional state and improved well-being. Namaste.
Eating well doesn’t need to cost a small fortune. Planning meals and cooking from scratch are the best way to ensure you stick to a budget. When shopping take a grocery list and don’t do the food shopping on an empty stomach as you will be more inclined to impulse buy all the naughty foods you just don’t need in your diet.
At the end of the day, your gut bacteria live off whatever’s leftover in your colon after your cells have digested all of the nutrients and amino acids. We need to feed them complex fiber, not bad, processed foods, especially if we want to live a long and healthy life. Our bodies carry us through our long life’s journey, so we owe it to ourselves to respect our shell and try and live our best life. Real self-love is living a balanced lifestyle that also includes exercise, self-care routines, mindfulness, laughter (lots of bellyaching laughter), and time out relaxing with a little bit of red wine.