Jess Wharton our Gut Health Nutritionist shares her 5 top tips for a healthy gut.
1. Sleep – The gut health sleep picture is a chicken egg scenario, a healthy gut promotes healthy sleep but you also need to be heaving healthy sleep for a healthy gut. Sleep is essential for optimal gut health, you want to be aiming towards 7-9 hrs of quality sleep a night. Lack of sleep can increase stress, disrupt your hormones, and increase stress hormone cortisol. This can lead to leaky gut —where food and toxins are able to pass through the intestine and into the bloodstream. This can lead to a host of issues including bloating, inflammation, stomach pains, food sensitivity, and changes to the gut microbiome (which controls a lot!). It also affects your following day’s dietary choices due to the impact it has on your hunger hormone. Leading to an increase in appetite. For a healthy sleep aim to not eat for around 3 hours prior to sleep and ensure your last meal is well balanced to ensure proper blood sugar regulation (fibre, fats & protein!) and of course reduce blue light exposure for AT LEAST two hours before bed!
2. Stress – can affect digestion and what nutrients the intestines absorb. The intestines have a tight barrier to protect the body from (most) food related bacteria. Stress can make the intestinal barrier weaker and allow gut bacteria to enter the body. Stress can also make pain, bloating, or discomfort felt more easily in the bowels. It can affect how quickly food moves through the body, which can cause either diarrhoea or constipation. Furthermore, stress can induce muscle spasms in the bowel, which can be painful it can also lead to increased cortisol and weight management problems. The fastest way to move yourself out of the stress response is via diaphragmatic breathing (try to incorporate more nasal breathing throughout the day), additionally maintaining a healthy social support network, engaging in regular physical exercise and getting an adequate amount of sleep each night.
3. Chewing your food-Chewing kickstarts the whole down-line digestive process, telling the brain to begin releasing enzymes from the pancreas so the small intestine is ready and waiting for the food coming from your stomach. The better digested your food is, the more nutrients your body will extract from it. On the other hand, swallowing food without much chewing gives the stomach a lot more work to do, which can contribute to digestive problems such as bloating, cramps, gas, and indigestion. How much time should you spend chewing each bite? It depends on the type and texture of the food. Although the most common advice is to chew EACH BITE 30-40 times before swallowing, you should really be aiming to chew until food has a soft, smooth texture similar to applesauce or thick soup.
4. Fibre/Prebiotics – There are two forms of fibre, insoluble and soluble fibres. Soluble is the dissolves in water. Examples of foods that contain soluble fibre include fruits, oats, legumes and barley. Insoluble comes from plant cell walls and does not dissolve in water. Examples of foods that contain insoluble fibre include whole grains, vegetables, and seeds, it is important for bulking out the stool and keeping you regular. Dietary fibre is not digested by human digestive enzymes, but it is acted upon by gut microbes, and metabolites like short-chain fatty acids are produced. The short-chain fatty acids are then absorbed into circulation and affect your metabolic regulation or be a substrate for other microbes. Some studies have shown improved insulin sensitivity, weight regulation, and reduced inflammation with increases in gut-derived short-chain fatty acids, all of which may reduce the risk of developing metabolic diseases. There are occasionally exceptions where fibre reduction is needed to support gut health recovery for a short period, but ideally you should be aiming for around 25g/d woman and 30g/d men.
When starting fibre, it is best to "start low and go slow." Increasing the amount of fibre in your diet too quickly (days as opposed to weeks) can lead to the development of unwanted side effects.
5. Probiotics - are live bacteria that line your digestive tract and support your body’s ability to absorb nutrients and fight infection and impact mood. Probiotics benefits have been proven effective in supporting immune function, reducing inflammation, promoting healthy digestion, as well as maintaining skin health, especially when combined with prebiotics.
Your good gut bacteria is also responsible for:
Producing vitamins B12, butyrate and vitamin K2
Crowding out bad microbes
Creating enzymes that destroy harmful bacteria
Supporting mood and mental health
Regulation of weight. AND SO MUCH MORE.
By Jess Wharton, Gut Health Qualified Nutritionist