The gut, or gastrointestinal tract, runs from our mouth, all the way down to our anus. It’s not just one long (nine meter!) tube however, as it also contains digestive organs including the stomach, small and large intestine, gallbladder and pancreas.
When we eat and drink, our digestive system breaks everything down so our body can absorb the nutrients it needs. But there’s a little more to the gut than just breaking down food. Our gut actually has its own microbiome, filled with around 100 trillion bacteria—both bad and good.
This bacteria, which is still being heavily researched, has been proven to increase or decrease our risk of developing a number of chronic diseases. So how do we ensure enough of the right bacteria is housed in our gut? Well, a number factors play a part here—from medications through to stress levels, as well as diet and aging. To keep your gut as healthy as possible, give these tips a try . . .
Eat plenty of plants
Ensuring a diet that is rich in color, variety and also fiber, is important to maintain a healthy gut. From berries through to bananas, leafy greens and legumes (such as lentils and chickpeas), packing in fibrous foods helps feed the bacteria. Plus, there’s even research to show how a diet higher in fruits and vegetables can actually slow down or stop the growth of certain bacteria that cause disease.
Try fermented foods
If you’re new to fermented foods, then start off with small portions as these foods can sometimes lead to gastrointestinal issues including bloating and gas. Essentially, fermented foods are foods which have gone through a process in which the sugars that they contain are broken down by bacteria or yeasts. These fermented foods can help maintain a healthy digestive system, and promote good bacteria, plus a study which took place over a 10-week period actually found that fermented foods can help improve immune responses. Examples of fermented foods include kombucha (a fermented drink), kimchi (fermented cabbage), sauerkraut (another type of fermented cabbage), pickles, and even yogurt.
Opt for prebiotics and probiotics
You may be familiar with these two words; probiotics are good bacteria or live microorganisms found in certain foods, drinks and supplements, whilst prebiotics are a type of fiber that essentially feed this friendly bacteria. Research on probiotics is still underway, however foods rich in probiotics include fermented foods, olives and yogurt whilst prebiotic foods include apples, berries, cocoa and artichokes.
Keep stress low
The state of our gut is impacted heavily by our stress levels with heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation and nausea just a handful of the stress-related symptoms. So, reducing stress is important to maintain a healthy gut. Try to ensure a solid sleep, with a calm, stress-free wind down before bed, exercise when possible, spend time in nature and avoid working late into the night. Instead, shut off at a certain time and engage in other activities.
Movement and exercise gets things ‘moving’ along the digestive tract; especially useful if you’re struggling with constipation. There is also research to suggest that exercise can enhance the amount of good bacteria too, leading to more health benefits. Plus, exercise is known to be a great stress relief, helping to lower the amount of the stress hormone, cortisol.
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*Content written by Lucy Gornall