If you’re on social media, read magazines, listen to or watch health and wellness podcasts or stroll through the aisles in a health shop, you’ve most likely stumbled across the words ‘gut health’. Gut health seems to be all the rage lately, with supplements, health foods and even fad diets coming out that claim to promote a healthy gut. Research and studies are linking gut health, or rather the lack thereof, with not only digestive issues like IBS but also with skin issues like acne and eczema, obesity, hormone imbalance and even autism and cancer. But what does ‘gut health’ really mean? How do we know if our gut is healthy? And why does it matter?
Let’s dive in!
What is the Microbiome?
The gut microbiome refers to the family of microscopic organisms (microbiota) that live in our gut, along with any genetic material they produce. The truth is we are covered in bacteria: in fact we have about 2kg of bacteria in our bodies, which is crazy if you consider how small they are! We have different microbiomes throughout our bodies – on our skin, in our respiratory system, in our reproductive system, and I know it sounds gross, but these little bacteria, fungi and viruses that call our bodies home, are actually our best friends. They make sure that everything in our system is working properly, they make and balance our hormones, and even control our DNA, with over 99% of our genetic code coming from microbes.
The gut microbiome, however, is especially important. I’m sure you’ve heard of the gut being referred to as the second brain, and this is because an incredibly huge amount of our body’s processes start and depend on the gut. Our ‘gut bugs’ are like the control centre for our bodies. In fact as you’re reading this, your gut is using 500 million nerves, hormones and neurotransmitters to communicate and adjust the function of pretty much all the organs in your body – how insane is that!?
When our gut bugs are happy and thriving, so are we. We feel happy, have more energy and even our immune systems are stronger – and I’m not just saying that, it’s backed up by science. Ninety percent of serotonin, our happy hormone, is made in the gut. So a happy gut really does equal a happy you! As for having a strong immune system (which is crucial especially now), the best thing we can do is support our gut health because a full 70% of our immune system resides in the gut. If our gut is unhealthy it will affect our immune system and actually trick the body into fighting itself.
What Happens when your Gut is out of Whack?
So we know that the gut plays a crucial role in the functioning of our body, so it’s not surprising that when the gut goes out of whack we can end up developing a whole myriad of issues. In fact it’s very probable that the long list of never ending health problems you might be facing could be as a result of an unhealthy gut. Everything from digestive issues, IBS, SIBO, hormonal imbalances, menopause, PCOS, anxiety, depression, thyroid problems, skin issues, heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, autism and cancer, can all have stems in bad gut health. These are illnesses that plague millions of people around the world, with things like diabetes, heart disease and cancer being some of the top killers. But how does this happen? What causes the gut to become weak and unwell and result in these heavy consequences on our overall health? And how can we change that, promote our health and even reverse disease?
You’ll want to continue this read because it’s about to get juicy (if it wasn’t already)!
It’s All Down to Food and Lifestyle
Food is the number 1 determinant of health and disease, and sadly the average person is eating a diet and living a lifestyle that does the exact opposite of promoting health. The vast majority of our food is contaminated by chemicals from pesticides and fertilisers, crops are grown in depleted soils, animals are pumped with hormones and antibiotics which then get into our systems when we eat them or drink their milk or eat their eggs. GMO crops make up large amounts of the food we eat and on top of all that we live stressful lives, are surrounded by pollution and exposed to even more chemicals through the medicines we take, such as antibiotics which can wipe out the whole microbiome in a single course, and the cleaning and self care products we use.
We’re pretty much doomed . . . or so it seems.
The beautiful thing about the gut is that it be repaired and it can bounce back. And guess what? We have the power to do that! Just like our diet and lifestyle can damage our gut and overall health, it can also cure it.
The food you eat has an immediate effect on your microbiome and determines which bacteria and fungi thrive and multiply. In fact, the food you had at your last meal has probably already changed and impacted your gut biome, which is pretty amazing because that means that you can begin to heal your gut and promote your health right now by choosing food that your gut loves!
But What do your Gut Bugs Like to Eat
The answer is simple and it’s all around us – PLANTS! Our gut loves plants – in fact the more plants you eat the better, and this is something the average human doesn’t even get close to. There are over 250,000 edible plants, but 75% of our food is made up of just 12 of these, with most people not even getting 25 different plants into their diet on a regular basis. No wonder so many of us suffer from illness and disease!
So if you’re wanting to start promoting your gut health and feeding your good gut bugs you need to focus on getting in a diversity of plants. This doesn’t mean you have to go full on vegan, but by simply being mindful of the animal products you consume and focusing on incorporating more plants and more diversity of plants into your diet you can give your gut a big helping hand!
Extras for Gut Health
Getting in a wide variety of plants is key to a healthy gut, but there are a few things you can focus on and add to your diet for that little bit extra.
Prebiotics: prebiotics feed and nourish the microbes in your gut. This comes mostly in the form of fibre which passes through the system unchanged before reaching the colon where it gets transformed to short-chain-fatty-acids (SCFA). These SCFAs are a byproduct of the fermentation of the prebiotics in the gut. SCFAs are amazing for the gut and body, and promote the growth of healthy bacteria, optimise the immune system, lower cholesterol, promote good bowel regularity, and even help prevent type 2 diabetes and cancer – I mean could it get any better?!
Incorporating prebiotics into your diet couldn’t be easier. All you need to do is eat those plants! Onions, garlic, leeks, jerusalem artichokes, asparagus, chicory, bananas, oats and barley are all great sources of prebiotics!
Probiotics: I’m sure you’ve all heard of probiotics and rightly so, because these little guys are amazing! Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, miso and kombucha. You can also take a probiotic supplement if you’re needing a bit of a boost, however fermented foods usually contain a higher proportion and wider diversity of probiotic bacteria, along with the added health benefits of the plants used to make the fermentation (e.g cabbage, carrot, ginger, garlic, onion are most commonly used to make sauerkraut and kimchi). Probiotics improve digestion, reduce gas and bloating, protect against bad bacteria, prevent yeast infections in women, unlock nutrients, vitamins and minerals and aid the immune system to work optimally.
Your Next Steps
Knowledge is power and now that you’re equipped with a whole pile (pun unintended!) of it, what are your next steps?
First off, if you are struggling with your health or are experiencing digestive issues, I would recommend that you go and see a professional and get your medical advice from them.
But there are plenty of things you can do right now to start optimising your gut and overall health!
- Plants, plants and more plants! Like I said, a diversity of plants is key to a healthy gut. The great thing is that it’s really not that hard to start incorporating them into your diet. Add a few handfuls of spinach to a stew; blend them into soups and pasta sauces. If you’ve got picky children, they won’t even notice! Make veggie stir fries, delicious smoothies, salads, veggie burgers, casseroles and bakes . . . honestly the possibilities are endless. Why not try one of our delicious plant based recipes or opt for a box of pre-packed vegetarian meal ingredients with a recipe to be delivered to your home weekly via UCOOK.
- Try to reduce your stress. Now this one is not quite as easy as the first but also plays a major factor in your gut health. Make sure you’re getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night, switch your phone/laptop off an hour before bed, and try adding things into your routine that you enjoy and make you feel good – why not fill up a nice hot bath and soak in some Beyond Wellness Stress Relieving Salts?
- Move your body! Movement is amazing for releasing those endorphins and also getting things moving, if you know what I mean. Go for a walk, run, do some yoga, lift weights, dance, do a home workout or hit the gym.
Stay hydrated. This is super important as well and one you’ve probably heard many times over! These gorgeous water bottles should get you feeling inspired to sip throughout the day!
- Get that extra boost. If you think you’re needing an extra little boost then definitely check out Faithful to Nature’s wide range of probiotics and gut health supplements. And if you’re really getting in the mood why not start making your own fermented sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha? These fermentation kits are perfect to get you started!
BONUS TIP: continue educating yourself and learning more about this fascinating topic! There are some amazing experts in the field offering lots of advice and information:
- Check out the Gut Solution Series
- Doctor Will Bulsiewicz is an incredible source of information (he provided most of the info for this article!). You can find his book Fibre Fueled, check out his blog and follow him on Instagram @theguthealthmd for heaps of interesting stuff!
Happy ‘gut healthing’ Green Family!
Written by: Sahara Thagunna