The digestive tract is not just a long narrow tube but a complex one; a healthy digestive system affects our entire being. In the past few years, many studies have focused on gut health. All this research shows that the health of our gut is greatly affected by the number and quality of microorganisms (or cells) residing in our intestines, the integrity of gut wall lining, and the pH (or the acidity) of our stomach. Thus, a healthy gut is one where a fine balance among all these constituents is maintained.
Some of us are aware that gas trouble, bloating, stomach aches and changes in bowel habits reflect some issues with our gut. But most of us do not know that an unhealthy gut can contribute negatively to our immunity, mental health, our skin, our mood and even the development of cancer. Therefore, an unhealthy gut has a detrimental effect on our entire body and not just the digestive system. And for that reason, a healthy gut means a healthy body.
Things To Do For A Healthy Gut:
Now that you know that gut health is important, let’s see what you can do to keep your gut healthy and happy.
A. Get to Know Gut-Friendly Food
Gut-friendly foods, as the name indicates, are good for gut health. Knowing about these foods is the first step to improve your gut. The points mentioned below will help you make more gut-friendly food decisions.
1. Diverse Foods Help Build A Variety Of Gut Microbiome
A diet that includes different types of food groups from both plant and animal sources is helpful. Having a diversity of food in our daily servings helps in developing different types of gut microbiomes that in turn play various beneficial roles in the maintenance of our health, for example, improved immunity and prevention from many diseases.
2. Veggies And Fruits Are Great
Healthy helpings of plant-based foods and intake of fruits and vegetables prevent the growth of many disease-causing bacteria in the gut. Leafy greens, such as kale, spinach, cabbage, beet greens, and watercress, are especially beneficial as they accelerate the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Fruits like kiwi, bananas, apples, raspberries, blueberries, and pears are also good for a healthy digestive system.
3. Fibre-Rich Food Helps To Develop Good Bacteria
Studies show that fibre-rich foods such as legumes, beans and whole grains promote the growth of Bifidobacteria, which is a beneficial (good) gut bacteria. The use of fibre-rich foods also stimulates the development of many other good bacteria. Some examples of such fibre-rich foods include leeks, celery, asparagus, apples and bananas.
4. Fermented Food Is A Great Gut-Friendly Choice
The use of fermented foods such as kimchi and yogurt (not flavoured ones) is very beneficial.
Fermentation converts food sugars (the carbohydrates) into alcohols or organic acids with the help of microbes. The fermented foods are rich in Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria, both of which decrease the growth of disease-causing bacteria in the gut.
5. Polyphenol-Rich Foods Are Good
Foods rich in polyphenols are basically prebiotics, i.e., they contain certain compounds in the food that induce the growth and activity of good bacteria and beneficial fungi in the gut. Polyphenol-rich foods feed Bifidobacteria (a group of bacteria that assist in digestion and fight harmful bacteria). Some polyphenols also have antioxidant properties that help in reducing inflammation in the gut lining.
Foods that are rich in polyphenols include strawberries, red raspberries, blueberries, black currants, plums, cocoa powder, dark chocolate, coffee, and flaxseeds.
B. Lifestyle Modifications
Certain lifestyle changes go a long way in maintaining the health of our gut. Let’s find out what changes are helpful.
1. Eat Mindfully
One of the healthiest eating habits is slow eating and eating with awareness of food. This means that you chew your food thoroughly rather than just ingesting big chunks of food. It not only helps maintain optimal gut health but also helps in greater absorption of nutrients. An additional benefit is that it prevents tummy aches and bloating.
2. Avoid Processed Food
Fast foods and processed foods are rich in salt and fats. Consumption of high amounts of salts and fats not only impacts gut health adversely but is a proven way to impact overall health negatively. Researchers think that processed food may cause an imbalance in the gut flora and affect the metabolism of gut bacteria and hence, our gut health. Moreover, it leads to the development of unfavourable health outcomes such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart diseases and high cholesterol levels.
3. Drink Plenty Of Water
Since childhood, we have been advised many times to drink at least 6-8 glasses of water per day. Rightly so! The good thing is that it not only makes you look fresh with nice skin but also positively affects your gut health. Staying hydrated has been shown to have favourable impacts on the gut flora and the gut lining. A well-hydrated tummy provides a good environment for the gut flora. Don’t ignore that childhood lesson you were taught!
4. Use Probiotics
Probiotics are essentially live microorganisms – bacteria and yeast – that restore the gut flora balance and impart health benefits. They help maintain the metabolic activity of the digestive tract and aid in the management of certain medical problems, such as Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, high cholesterol, lactose intolerance, diarrhoea, and constipation.
Foods with probiotics include sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha. Adding these foods to your diet will definitely help with better gut health.
5. Get Sufficient Sleep
Having inadequate sleep induces a state of stress on your body, affecting the metabolic activity of the gut. In addition to irritability, tiredness during the day, and an inability to focus on daily activities, it can lead to obesity, which may further compromise one’s health.
Healthy sleep habits include 7- 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If you have trouble sleeping, seek help from your doctor. And if you have that habit of using your phone till late at night, try developing a habit to put away the phone one hour before bedtime.
It may seem unconnected, but good sleep adds a lot to your gut health.
6. Be Physically More Active
If you have ever been into any form of physical activity, like walking, jogging, sports, or gym, you must have noticed how positively it affects gut health, especially the bathroom routine. It’s true; sufficient and healthy physical activity not only helps in shedding some pounds but also enhances the metabolic activity of the gut.
Once again, always seek help from a professional for a good workout regimen, or do a quick youtube search to find a professional.
7. Learn To Manage Stress
Did you know that stress induces the release of more than the usual amount of gastric acid in the stomach that causes heartburn and damages the lining of the digestive tract?
So the acid that – when released in an appropriate amount and time – is useful for digestion begins to inevitably cause damage to the stomach when a person is excessively stressed. We need to learn how to manage stress so we can relieve the strain on our digestive system.
Though it is easier said than done, some of the many ways of relieving stress include going out for a walk, talking to your friends, reducing caffeine intake, and keeping a pet (though taking care of a pet is another topic 🙂
8. Improve Mental Well-being
The gut and brain are connected via the gut-brain axis. Mood disorders, anxiety, and depression, all affect gut health. Did you ever wonder why some individuals puke during stage fright or why some people suffer diarrhoea during exams or stress states?
Mental state affects the digestive system- that’s why. Do seek professional help for mental health and while you are deciding on that, add one more decision – that you will adopt at least one form of physical activity – let’s say, cardio or running. This will greatly boost your digestive as well as mental health.
9. Avoid Smoking
Smoking is injurious to health. It is high time that we learn our lesson. Smoking doesn’t just affect the lungs; it also damages the gut lining and does harm to the good bacteria in our gut. It decreases the diversity of our gut flora and contributes negatively to gut health by causing heartburn and peptic ulcers. Smoking is also a major risk factor for cancers of the esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, pancreas, and liver.
If you smoke, try to stop it – or at least, reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke per day.
10. Avoid Excessive Use Of Antibiotics
Antibiotics are drugs that kill or slow down the growth of bacteria. Undue use of excessive antibiotics may adversely affect your gut health. While these drugs are required to remove any harmful bacteria causing disease in the body, the problem is that they end up killing the good bacteria as well.
It is advisable to always consult your doctor before taking any medication, especially antibiotics, and stick to the prescribed regimen.
Gut Health In Newborns
Gut health is significant in all stages of life. It is as important for the new-borns as it is for the adults. Although the microorganisms in the baby’s gut begin to develop properly after birth, present studies confirm the presence of microbiomes in the placenta as well. These microbes play a critical role in various metabolic and immune functions before childbirth.
Did you know that during the early years of infancy, the baby’s gut is rich in Bifidobacteria, which helps in the digestion of breast milk compared to the guts of those babies who are formula-fed? The World Health Organization advises mothers to breastfeed their young ones exclusively for the initial six months of life as it promotes the development and diversification of healthy microbes in the baby’s digestive system. This also helps protect the baby from developing different types of allergies later in life.
Similarly, the use of yogurt during the early years of life has also shown to be beneficial in the development of gut-friendly bacteria, such as Lactobacilli. Studies show that the use of natural yogurt helps improve the symptoms of lactose intolerance in young ones and adults likewise.
Make sure to follow the gut-friendly-food-advice from the earlier part of this post for your young ones, too.
The importance of gut microbiomes cannot be denied as they are responsible for our overall health. We must eat a diverse range of foods and adopt healthy lifestyle changes for a healthy gut. Also, always consult your physician and share your concerns regarding your gut health and ask about healthy dietary choices for your gut.