We like to refer to the digestive system as the body’s wellness centre. It is responsible for converting food into simple nutrients and delivering them to the body via the bloodstream. It also contains trillions of bacteria, most of which are in your large intestine, which play a vital role in your overall health. Your gut bacteria can influence your immune system, sleep, energy, weight, appetite and much more. In fact around 70% of the body’s immune system resides in your gut, and your gut bacteria significantly impact your immune health.
Poor gut health is not only linked to issues like bloating or constipation, but may play a role in the management of diseases like diabetes, autoimmune disorders, arthritis and depression. Even conditions that may seem totally unrelated to your gut – such as eczema – may actually be connected.
Check out these 5 easy steps you can start doing today to achieve better gut health.
#1: Eat a diverse range of prebiotics
There are hundreds of species of bacteria in your intestines. Each species plays a different role in your health and requires different nutrients for growth. Prebiotics are a type of dietary fibre that pass through the body undigested, acting as food for the good bacteria in your gut. They help to stimulate the growth and survival of good bacteria and discourage the growth of other harmful bacteria. A diet consisting of different prebiotic foods can lead to a diverse range of gut bacteria, which is beneficial for your health. The recommended fibre intake for adult is 30g per day.
Good sources of prebiotics include:
- Fruits such as bananas, apples and berries
- Vegetables such as garlic, leeks, asparagus, artichokes and onion
- Wholegrains such as oats
- Legumes such as chickpeas, lentils and kidney beans
#2: Eat more polyphenol rich foods
Polyphenols are naturally-occurring compounds found in plants. Many of these plants make up our food supply, including fruits, vegetables, coffee, tea and wine. Once eaten, only about 5-10% of polyphenols are directly absorbed in the small intestine – the rest make their way to your large bowel, where they are broken down by gut bacteria. These breakdown metabolites have a range of important physiological effects. Polyphenols can also help support the growth of friendly bacteria and inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria which can lead to a diverse healthy microbiome.
Good sources of polyphenols include:
- Dark chocolate
- Grape skins
- Green tea
#3: Eat more probiotic rich foods
Probiotics are live ‘friendly bacteria’ that are good for our health, especially our digestive system. They are naturally found in the body, but can also be found in some foods and supplements. They act to reduce the number of harmful bacteria in the gut, thereby improving overall health. They can help to combat bloating, gas and discomfort caused by overgrowth of yeasts or “bad” bacteria. Fermented foods, particularly plain, natural yoghurt, can benefit your gut health but increasing the abundance of friendly bacteria.
Good food sources of probiotics:
#4: Including sources of omega 3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fatty acids, which means that although we need them to stay healthy, the human body cannot produce them on its own – so we have to get them from food. They have been linked to a range of health benefits – from lowering inflammation to improving your mood. Now, a recent study suggests omega-3s might also be responsible for better gut health, helping to keep gut microbiota diverse and healthy.
Good sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include:
- Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines
- Flax seeds
- Chia seeds
#5: Stay hydrated
It may not come as a surprise but staying hydrated is essential for optimal digestion and overall health. Fibre, (particularly prebiotic fibres) are important for gut health, however, in order for this type of fibre to do its job, adequate water is required. Drinking insufficient water slows down your digestive system significantly and results in harder stools that are more difficult to pass. Aim to consume at least 1.2-2 litres (6-8 glasses of water) each day for optimal hydration and gut health benefits.
Your gut health is extremely important to your overall health. The best way to maintain a healthy gut is to eat a range of fresh, whole foods and ensure you get loads of plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, legumes, beans and wholegrains.