Why a healthy gut is more important than you think
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Now that we’ve found ourselves in an environment where our health is being questioned and considered more than ever, it would be the perfect opportunity to look over ALL areas of our health - including our digestive system.
This is often the last thing on people’s minds when they want to improve their physical or mental health, yet we know that it can play a huge role in both. A healthy gut helps us to regulate nutrition, improves our immune health and even influence the hormones and neurotransmitters our bodies produce by communicating with our Central Nervous System.
Why is digestive health so important?
Before going into some key areas that you can focus on to improve your gut health, it is useful to firstly understand your digestive system and processes. To give you a general overview, your digestive system comprises of many areas:
- Oesophagus-Stomach-Small Intestine
- Pancreas & Gall Bladder
- Blood & Lymphatic System
- Digestive enzymes
- Large intestine - containing the largest bacterial ecosystem in the human body.
The gut communicates with the brain via the gut-brain axis. This is the feedback-loop between the gastro-intestinal (GI) tract and the central nervous system through 3 main pathways - immune cells, hormone transmitters and the nervous system. This means that we can influence our digestive health through our external environment (lifestyle) and equally our gut can influence our internal environment (overall mental and physical wellbeing).
Now that we’ve covered that, you may be wondering what you can do to help improve your digestion, which will ultimately have a positive impact on your immune health.
Lifestyle Factors – i.e. Stress reduction
Here are 3 areas for you to consider.
As previously mentioned, our gut and brain are linked through a network of nerves that we can voluntarily influence based on our environment. When we are in a sympathetic (stressed) state, our body increases heart rate and up-regulates blood flow to muscles and decreases motility in the large intestine.
We have the ability to counter this by stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) through the vagus nerve. Breathing is one of the fastest ways to move from a stressed state into a state of relaxation due to the vagus nerve connecting through the vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat. This is why meditation and stress management techniques are primarily focused on breathing deeply. When our PNS is dominant, our ability to digest food is greatly improved.
This is certainly something to consider if you have a busy and stressful day ahead of you, as rushed eating, distractions during mealtimes and eating when stressed, can all lead to poor digestion.
ACTION: As we are spending more time at home, why don’t you try to incorporate some meditation into your daily routine? Or aim to spend mealtimes at the table with family? Make sure that the TV is switched off, you eat slowly and without distractions or electronics nearby.
Check Yourself (before you wreck yourself)
It is well known that our nutritional choices will directly impact our internal health, but how do we measure how healthy our gut is based on the foods we eat? Well you can simply refer to your own GI symptoms to see if you have bloating or poor digestion after eating any particular foods, and you can use the Bristol Stool Chart below* to check if your poop is healthy!
ACTION: If you are feeling particularly bloated or notice changes in your bowel movement/stools, start a diary and take notes on a daily basis of foods eaten and how you feel after each meal. This will allow you to see any specific trends that may be causing you digestive issues.
We would typically recommend SWITCH DON’T DITCH as your method of trial and improvement, as this will allow greater flexibility within your diet rather than diminishing your food choices. By that we mean, switch out dairy or gluten for a few days, and then re-introduce to see if it causes any gut issues. Once you have a log of how you respond to different foods, in different environments, you can identify any problematic food groups and begin making swaps.
Once you have tabs on how certain foods impact your own gut, here are some guidelines we would recommend.
- Small gradual increases in fibre consumption will help not only feed the bacteria in your gut but will help your digestive system remain regular and consistent. From where you’re currently at, slowly bump up the amount and variety of fibre you consume, as well as water to aid this process. You can start using a food tracking app if you need to learn more about how much fibre is contained within certain foods.
HOMEMADE SAUERKRAUT RECIPE
- Plant-based diversity will be a key factor in sustaining a healthy gut. Use this time when your regular foods may be unavailable in stores to branch out into different fruit and vegetables. Be experimental and don’t be shy. Use your new-found time to learn how to cook a number of recipes in a number of ways. A simple start would be to aim for a diverse range of colours, leaves, roots and fruits. Some of these may contain high amounts of fibre so again, start small and gradually increase over time.
- Fermented foods can be a great way of adding probiotics to your diet, the bacteria contained within them can help improve your gut flora. Fermentation is the breakdown of carbs by bacteria and yeast and is an age-old technique of preserving food. Common fermented foods include kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, and yogurt. Try adding in one serving every other day to begin with, see how your body responds and progress this into a daily habit over time. If you’d like to learn how to make your own fermented foods, below is one of the simplest recipes you can make at home.
What do you need?
Kilner jar (wash before use)
1 white or red cabbage (wash before use)
1tbsp of sea or Himalayan salt
- Thinly slice/shred or grate your cabbage
- Place in a bowl and sprinkle with 1tbsp of salt
- Massage the salt into the cabbage with your hands (make sure your hands are very clean!)
- Leave the cabbage for an hour or so as the salt will draw water from the cabbage and it will begin to go limp
- Scoop cabbage into a kilner jar, push it down so that the cabbage is compact within the jar
- Cover the cabbage with filtered water – making sure it is fully submerged but leaving a good inch of space at the top of the jar
- Close the kilner jar, leave to ferment in a room away from direct sunlight for 3-10 days
- Check the sauerkraut every day as the fermentation process may cause the cabbage to rise out of the water, so use a fork to submerge it again in the water. It’s normal to see bubbles as this is a natural part of the fermentation process.
- Taste the sauerkraut from day 4 onwards until you have achieved the desired taste. Once happy with your sauerkraut, store it in the fridge and consume!
Try implementing these tips to help improve your digestive health and ultimately, your immune health.
At M10, we provide all of our clients with lifestyle advice covering areas from digestive health to sleep, stress and mindset. If you would like to learn more about our methods, download a copy of the M10 Blueprint today.