Lauren Windas, Registered Nutritionist and Naturopath, and Co-founder of ARDERE, shares her top tips on how to have a healthy gut with Aguulp.
Gut health has become an area of increasing popularity within the health and medical community, showing no signs of slowing down. More and more research has come to light in recent years on how our digestive system plays a pivotal role in our overall wellbeing, which has in turn led to more people wanting to know how to have a healthy gut.
Understanding how to have a healthy gut can have an impact on everything from your skin health, to autoimmune conditions, and even your mental health, as the gut is a key player in many biological processes that can have widespread outcomes towards our overall wellbeing.
Why A Healthy Gut Is Important
Once thought of as a straightforward system of the body, the digestive system was considered as simply one long tube for our food to pass through, absorb our nutrients and pass out the other end. Yet the gut offers a plethora of health benefits to us, and we can credit much of these to the community of microorganisms living within us, called the microbiota.
The microbiota refers to the various species of bacteria, yeasts, and protozoa that reside within the large intestine. You may have heard about ‘bad’ bacteria and organisms that can cause disease, but our guts also host a variety of ‘good’ bacteria that can promote health, which is why knowing how to have a healthy gut is so important.
Beneficial gut bacteria can support immunity (since 70% of our immune system resides in the gut), and influence our mood – 90% of the body’s serotonin, the so-called ‘happy hormone’ is produced in the gut.
With over 100 million neurons having been identified within the digestive tract, the gut has now been referred to as our second brain, due to the body’s longest cranial nerve, the vagus nerve, extending all the way from the brainstem into the colon, connecting and communicating the two organs with one another. This connection is often referred to as the gut-brain axis.
Scientists are now uncovering the various facets that we can implement to our diet and lifestyle in order to promote an abundance of these favourable communities of good bacteria that can ward away infection and illness and generally keep our digestive system (and overall health) in good condition. Keep reading to discover top tips on how to have a healthy gut.
How To Have A Healthy Gut: 5 Top Tips
With a rise in diagnoses for chronic diseases such as IBS, psoriasis, anxiety and depression, it’s never been more important to ‘go with your gut’ and give it some TLC.
That’s why I’m sharing my top 5 tips on how to have a healthy gut, and how to nurture your gut health:
1. Eat Probiotic And Prebiotic Foods
Probiotics are live bacteria that are introduced to the body for their beneficial qualities, so you should eat more probiotic foods for a healthy gut to benefit your wider health too. While probiotics can be taken in supplemental form, I always encourage my clients to use food-form probiotics too, for their ability to populate the communities of good bacteria within the digestive tract. Probiotic foods include:
Kefir: the bacteria in milk kefir (a type of fermented drink) can pre-digest its lactose content, making it much easier to digest if you’re lactose intolerant. You can also experiment with water kefir, as an alternative way to get more good bacteria into your diet
Live yoghurt: always check the labelling of yoghurt brands to see if they add ‘live cultures’ to their ingredients lists, to ensure you’re reaping some beneficial gut bacteria
Kimchi: this is a Korean dish of fermented, spicy pickled cabbage that packs a nice flavour punch
Sauerkraut: this German dish of chopped pickled cabbage is a less spicy alternative to kimchi, but is still packed with beneficial gut bacteria to support a healthy gut
Kombucha: this is a great swap from a high sugar fizzy drink. Kombucha is a drink produced by fermenting sweet tea with a culture of yeast and bacteria. The small amount of sugar that is added to kombucha for fermentation processes gets broken down, resulting in a low sugar drink full of friendly microbes and organic acids
Many people researching how to have a healthy gut will start with incorporating foods and drinks such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha, and kefir into their diet.
2. Increase Your Fibre Intake (Including More Diverse Fibre)
Fibre is essential for a healthy gut; fibre is a plant-based carbohydrate that passes through the digestive system unchanged. While fibre is something that humans cannot digest, it offers a food source for our gut microbes, which ‘gobble’ up the fibre and can produce beneficial by-products, called Short Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs). SCFAs can have anti-inflammatory effects in the colon, as well as nourishing the cells of the gut lining (Säemann et al. 2000).
It’s recommended that we should be consuming 30g of fibre a day, but the majority of the population are estimated to only be averaging 18g daily. You don’t just need to increase your fibre intake, but diversify it too for a healthy gut; although you may have heard of the well-known soluble and insoluble fibre, you may be surprised to learn that there have been over 100 different types of fibre identified in the diet.
Eating a diverse range of fibre is associated with a strong diversity of gut bacteria, which is a key facet towards optimum health and has been shown to lower our risk of various chronic diseases such as heart disease and metabolic syndrome. To reap the benefits of these different types of fibres, eat a variety of different types of plant-based foods on a daily basis to support a healthy gut, such as:
- Whole grains
- Seeds on a daily basis.
Always remember to mix things up – if you often eat blueberries with your morning porridge, try switching this to raspberries the next day to reap different plant fibres that will increase the diversity of your gut microbiota, supporting a healthy gut.
Not only does fibre help our microbes to produce SCFAs, but having a high-fibre diet can help to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes (Wang et al. 2016), cardiovascular disease (Threapleton et al. 2013), and constipation.
Top tip: if you are someone who suffers with IBS and digestive symptoms, then always increase fibre into the diet slowly as it can exacerbate your symptoms.
3. Eat More Mindfully
Next on the list of ways to have a healthy gut is to eat more mindfully. One in five people in the UK suffer with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), a condition that affects the gut and causes symptoms such as diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, gas, and abdominal pain.
A lot of my clients will put their IBS symptoms down to having food intolerances, which are, of course, a very real thing. However, despite avoiding various trigger foods and following an elimination diet, I often see clients still experiencing exacerbations of their symptoms.
This is where lifestyle comes into play and I like to emphasise that the way you eat is just as important as what you eat for a healthy gut. When you eat in a stressful state, your nervous system is in a state of fight-or-flight, which unfortunately means that digestion comes last on the body’s priority list. With this in mind:
- Slow down
- Avoid any distractions (that means no social media or TV while eating)
- Chew your food thoroughly to allow the digestive system to work optimally to break down and absorb your food, helping to alleviate any digestive distress
4. Eat Smaller Meals And Try Meal Spacing
Learning how to have a healthy gut may also need to be about reassessing your eating habits. Your digestive system is extremely hard-working and is busy working around the clock, utilising a lot of energy just like the rest of our body. Therefore, you need to give your gut a breather to rest and repair.
If you suffer with bloating, consuming smaller meals can be beneficial in reducing symptom severity and frequency. This is because eating smaller meals can help the stomach to empty much quicker than if you eat a large meal, reducing abdominal pain and distention after eating.
Spacing your meals and avoiding frequent snacking after meals can also be key to a healthy gut. A mechanism called the migrating motor complex (MMC) acts as a form of gut housekeeping, sweeping away undigested food particles and bacteria out of the stomach and small intestine to keep the intestines healthy. The MMC is activated after a 4-hour fasting period (Wood, 2017). With this in mind, spacing your food and avoiding frequent snacking between meals can help to keep your gut microbiota balanced, supporting a healthy gut.
5. Consume Prebiotics
Prebiotics should also be part of your diet if you’re looking to improve your gut health. Prebiotics are compounds found in food that help to promote the beneficial bacteria colonies that already reside in the gut – in other words, food for your gut microbes. Prebiotic foods include:
- Asparagus (it’ll retain most of its prebiotic content when cooked al dente)
- Chicory root
- Bananas (the less ripe, the higher the prebiotic content)
- Jerusalem artichokes
You’ll also find prebiotics in the Aguulp for Gut supplement, which contains a blend of soluble fibre, inulin, vitamins, and amino acids to help rebuild your gut, supporting optimal mood and energy.
Wondering how to know if you have a healthy gut and whether you could benefit from a gut health supplement? Take our gut health test to find out.
Aune, D. Chan, D.S.M. Lau, R. et al. (2011). ‘Dietary Fibre, Whole Grains, and Risk of Colorectal Cancer: Systematic Review and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies’, BMJ, 343, pp. 1-20, BMJ [Online]. Available at: https://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d6617
Säemann, M.D. Böhmig, G.A. Osterreicher, C.H. et al. (2000). ‘Anti-inflammatory Effects of Sodium Butyrate on Human Monocytes: Potent Inhibition of IL-12 and Up-regulation of IL-10 Production’, The FASEB Journal, 14 (15), pp. 2380-2382 NCBI [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11024006
Threapleton, D.E. Greenwood, D.C. Evans, C.E.L. et al. (2013). ‘Dietary Fibre Intake and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis’, BMJ, 347, BMJ [Online]. Available at: https://www.bmj.com/content/347/bmj.f6879
Wang, P.Y. Fang, J.C. Gao, Z.H. et al. (2016). ‘Higher Intake of Fruits, Vegetables or their Fibre Reduces the Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Meta-Analysis’, Journal of Diabetes Investigation, 7 (1), pp. 56-69, NCBI [Online]. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4718092/
Wood, J.D. (2017). ‘Enteric Nervous System: Physiology’, Encyclopedia of Neuroscience, pp. 1103-1113, Science Direct [Online]. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128093245018344