Listen to Your Gut: How to Have a Healthy Gut
How often do you hear the phrase “listen to your gut”? While it implies being mindful of your intuition, your gut feeling has a lot more to do with your actual gut than you might think.
Your gut is often referred to as your second brain, and for a reason. There is a rich portfolio of bacteria and nerves contained there that are connected to your brain. They control not only an array of vital bodily functions but also your mood.
Let’s dive deep into the mysteries of our gut and unveil how we can improve our gut health to enjoy a fulfilling life.
The importance of gut health
Your gut’s ‘inner world’ is called the gut microbiome. It consists of a rich assortment of around 1,000 species, such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses, weighing approximately three pounds. Those microorganisms are extremely beneficial for your health and well-being. They’re in command of digesting food, releasing toxins, and keeping you happy and healthy.
70% to 80% of our immune cells are located in the gut. Your gut microbiome protects your immune system to prevent you suffering from diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Plus, there is an intrinsic link between your gut health and mental health, according to studies. Our gut microbiome is connected with our brain through the nervous system via the Microbiome Gut Brain (MGB) Axis. It regulates a number of functions, such as “our mood, response to stressors, movement, and ability to form memories and process information”. Not only that but over 90% of the happiness hormone, serotonin, are contained in the gut. These vital functions may be affected if your gut is in dysbiosis, meaning that there is an imbalance of microorganisms.
What causes an unhealthy gut?
Unfortunately, gut microbiome dysbiosis is a major problem in the UK, as about 40% of the population experiences at least one digestive problem symptom at any given time. As a result, the quality of our lives is negatively affected. While stress is one of the biggest contributors to gut issues, the way we medicate ourselves with antibiotics can cause unbalance too.
According to Dr Grace Liu, also known as The Gut Goddess, who was featured in an interview for the Gaia series Healing Matrix: “Here, in the Western world, studies are showing that even after one course of antibiotics, we’re depleting such a great amount of microbiome. We literally can lose 1/3 or 2/3 of our whole microbiome with even one course of antibiotics, and it never reverts back for some people”.
What can help us improve our microbiome is taking a closer look at the cultures whose gut health is thriving. Such are the Amish and the Blue Zoners. The latter are known to live in geographical regions called Blue Zones where people have the highest life expectancy and are the healthiest and happiest. According to studies, these cultures have a diverse microbiome featuring species that are already extinct in the Western world.
“So, the way I look at the microbiome, it’s kind of like a wealth portfolio. Here in the Western world, we’re bankrupt in terms of our microbiome,” adds Dr Grace Liu.
Ways to improve your gut health
Yes, our gut microbiome might be running low on vital species. Yet we can enrich our microbiome portfolio through diet, detox, and probiotics. Here is how.
Eat lots of fibre
The growth of healthy bacteria is supported by dietary fibre. There are two types of fibre that can significantly benefit your gut: insoluble and soluble fibre.
Insoluble fibre is found in nuts, seeds, grains, legumes, and the outer skin of root vegetables. It fills you up well, stimulates bowel movement, and prevents constipation.
Soluble fibre is contained in most fruits and vegetables, legumes, and oats. It helps with digestion and the regulation of blood glucose levels.
It’s recommended to consume 30g of dietary fibre daily.
Indulge in fermented foods for probiotics
When dietary fibre enters our digestive system, it is broken down by our gut bacteria. This quality is called fermentability. Fermented foods are rich in natural microorganisms called probiotics, which improve our gut flora.
A portion of the following fermented foods a day can have incredible benefits to your gut health: sauerkraut, yoghurt, kimchi, kefir, kombucha, and fermented vegetables such as onions and pickles.
For an extra probiotic boost, try probiotic supplements. They contain live bacteria and yeasts which restore your microbiome balance.
Boost your prebiotics intake
Probiotics feed off prebiotics, the “fertilisers in our gardens”. They are contained in foods such as garlic, tomatoes, onions, bananas, chicory, and asparagus, and are vital for keeping our ecosystem in order.
Swap refined sugar with organic chocolate
Consuming too much processed sugar and artificial sweeteners can lead to microbiome dysbiosis. They are contained in the majority of packaged foods and ready meals.
Nevertheless, sugar is essential for our survival, and thankfully, there are “good” sources of sugar. Fruits and vegetables, for example, are packed full of natural sugar (carbohydrates) and are less likely to cause tooth decay than “bad” sugars. So opt for fair trade fruit juices, dried fruit such as the super fruit dates, and abundant salads.
Sugar is addictive, just like a drug. When we’re feeling down, we oftentimes use it to add a pinch of sweetness into our lives and uplift our mood. We get an initial sugar rush which is followed by a sugar crash, the result of the overworking of insulin and stress hormones. We then end up feeling lethargic.
Instead of resorting to sugar binges, which are harmful to your gut microbiome, try and nurture your emotions. Alternatively, indulging in some organic chocolate can give you the extra energy boost while supporting your gut flora. It's rich in nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, and calcium, and naturally boosts your serotonin levels. It’s no coincidence that the Mayans used to call cacao “the food of the gods”.
Organic coffee is also a great energy booster, which can help you burn fat and optimise your physical and mental performance.
Get a good night’s sleep
Sleep is essential for your gut health, as it’s dictated by our bodies’ natural rhythms. However, when we don’t get enough sleep, especially in our busy modern lives, we invite inflammatory bacteria to flourish in our gut, while healthy bacteria diminish.
Not only that but chronic insufficient sleep can make you hungrier and lead to obesity. So make sure you get a good night’s sleep whenever possible.
Try mindful eating
Mindful eating, also called intuitive eating, refers to being aware of all your senses while eating – taste, smell, touch, sight, and hearing. Turning your dining experience into a ritual will help you better understand your appetite and eating habits. In return, you will stop overeating, enjoy and be grateful for your food, and boost your digestion.
It’s important that you chew your food properly so that your saliva releases enzymes to aid your digestion. Also, ensure there are no stress factors around you while you eat, and avoid consuming too much liquid as it can overload your digestive system.
While riches can provide us with material security, the wealth of our gut microbiome is vital for our health and vitality. So listen to your gut and take care of your gut health for a fulfilling life!
*Blog post research compiled by Mediaworks