5 simple ways to get a healthier gut
Have you heard the saying food as medicine? So many diseases that we are faced with today are inextricably linked to our diet and lifestyles. The role that food plays in our lives has changed to the point that we now see it as a form our entertainment. We seem to have forgotten that food is a source of nutrition.
If you’ve been struggling with some aspect of your physical, mental or emotional health, you may be surprised to find that that the health of the gut is implicated in every single system in the body. Everything comes back to the food we consume, and our ability to digest and absorb its nutrients.
Regardless of the condition that you are facing, all roads lead back to your gut!
The good news is that just because you’re genetically pre-disposed to certain diseases, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re destined to get them. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of gut microbiome, which are the communities of living organisms – including bacteria, yeast, fungus and viruses - that live inside of us. Each of us have more than 100 trillion of these microbiomes. In fact, there’s more bacteria in our gut than there are cells in our bodies.
We need the microbiome in our gut in order to live – we’re dependent on it. Microbiome play a critical role in our health by processing foods and stimulating our metabolism. The vast majority (studies say 99%) of our genes are bacterial, vs. 1% of our genes which are human.
This means the gut bacteria have the ability to influence our gene expression, which, in most cases, can be controlled through the food you eat and your lifestyle choices. What you eat can either promote wellness or promote disease. Genetics load the gun - food and lifestyle pull the trigger!
Yes, you read that right. From depression and anxiety, diabetes to autoimmunity, all through way through to serious diseases like cancer, MS and heart disease. The development of these diseases is related to the imbalances and inflammation in the gut from which 70% of our immune system stems.
It’s easy to see why it makes sense for us to maintain a healthy gut. While everyone is different and, therefore, the way we each respond to different foods varies, here are some commons sign that your gut is not operating well:
Skin rashes, or acne
Feeling depressed, anxious or irritable
Here are 5 simple ways that we can improve our gut health.
1. Cut the processed crap!
The act of cutting out (or significantly cutting down) processed foods from your diet will make an enormous difference to the way your gut functions.
Processing strips the vitamins and minerals out of the food and also many of the natural flavours. Chemical flavouring, additives and preservatives are added in throughout the process. In the end, you’re not actually eating food, but a food-based product.
By choosing foods with no or minimal processing, you’re able to get the most from the bioavailable vitamins and minerals found in foods in the form that nature intended. I stick to eating plant-based whole foods which consists of fresh or minimally processed fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.
Plant-based diets have been linked to a number of health benefits, including reducing your risk of heart disease, certain cancers, obesity, diabetes and cognitive decline. Studies have shown that populations with mostly plant-based diets have longer lifespans. Eating this way means you’re receiving the macro and micro nutrients you need, along with loads of dietary fibre. Best of all, there’s no calorie counting, which keeps things nice and simple.
Bottom line – eat less processed foods and fill your plate with more plants.
2. Eat mindfully
We’re all been there – standing and gulping down our brekkie before we rush out the door. This type of eating is detrimental to the processing of our food and can result in increased stress levels.
Mindful eating is one of the oldest practices in mindfulness. It’s about slowing down and being completely present to the act of eating.
Be in the moment and enjoy all aspects of your meal, rather than thinking about what you need to do next. Tune into the aroma, taste of the food and texture as you chew and swallow.
Digestion actually starts in the mouth. Not only are we mechanically breaking down food by chewing, the increased saliva also starts the production of digestive enzymes which chemically break food down, allowing for the absorption of nutrients. Slowly down also means you’ll register when you’re actually full, so you can stop at that point and avoid over-eating.
Instead of inhaling your food, take the time to savour each and every bite!
3. Stress less
The term gut feeling is so much more than a sweeping reference to our intuition.
Research shows that there’s a strong connection between the brain and the digestive system. In fact, the gut is increasingly referred to as the ‘second brain’. A highway of nerves, known as the gut-brain axis, between the tissue of the digestive system and the cognitive centres of the brain sends messages in both directions. This is why physiological disturbances in the gut can impact things like mood and pain perception.
Thankfully, we now understand that psychological or social stress can cause digestive problems. When we’re stressed, our body goes into survival (fight or flight) mode and cortisol levels are elevated. If you become stressed enough to trigger the fight or flight response, the natural enzymes that enable us to break down food and absorb nutrients are decreased because energy is taken away from the digestive process to deal with a perceived threat.
Take steps to minimise stress and avoid eating eat when you are feeling the strain. Your body will thank you for it.
If you’re feeling on the edge, download a copy of my free Burnout Survival Kit for tips on how to go from simply surviving to thriving.
4. Get into green juice
Consuming foods rich in prebiotics significantly increase the good bacteria in the gut. Juicing is one of the best ways to add a significant amount of vegetables to the diet and is an easy way to improve your digestive health. Vegetables, in particular green veggies, are some of the best sources of prebiotics going around.
Drinking rather than eating (some) of your veggies makes it possible to significantly up your intake of nutrients and enzymes. Without the fibre, very little digestion is required because the foods are already broken down, which allows you to readily deliver these nutrients to your blood stream. It’s a hit of the good stuff that lands directly where your body needs it.
Green juice is loaded with living enzymes and phytonutrients from the vegetables. These combat inflammation and give your immune system a much-needed boost.
Make your own from fresh organic ingredients and include lots of dark leafy greens alongside celery, cucumber, ginger and lemon to akalise and detox the body. If you’re going for store-bought, steer clear of the supermarket brands that have high sugar content and have been pasteurised. Pasteurisation heats the juice to very high temperatures which kills off all the living enzymes – the very reason we want to consume the juice in the first place.
A green juice a day is a great place to start. If you’re keen to take things to the next level, consider a juice cleanse. Read what to expect during your first juice cleanse to learn more.
5. Drink (a lot) more water
Let’s face it - we all know we need to drink more water! It’s all too easy to forget in the midst of our crazy, busy lives. Our bodies are around 60% water and need this life-giving liquid to function optimally. Even mild dehydration can cause a drop in energy levels.
Being well hydrated is crucial for a lot of our body’s functions – including healthy digestion. It helps to process the food you eat, so waste can pass more easily through the intestine, and also allows the body to absorb minerals and nutrients more easily.
We should aim to drink 2 – 3 litres of water per day - but it’s not just quantity that counts. In many countries, including Australia, where I live, tap water is treated with chlorine to kill off pathogenic bacteria. However, that process also kills our beneficial gut bacteria! Fluoride, which is also added to our water systems, is also known to be an extremely toxic substance.
Up your water intake, but go for filtered where possible. At home, my preferred filter is this reverse osmosis filter with alkaliser from The Water Shop.
Living a happy gut life
When I applied these basic steps to the way I eat, I noticed a dramatic improvement not just to my digestion, but also to my overall physical, mental and emotional health. From kicking fibromyalgia, insomnia and anxiety to the curb, benefitting from a ton of more energy, noticeable improvements in my mood, beating hay fever, through to small wins like not getting constant colds and flus, I discovered that a healthy gut = a happy me.
Stay tuned to receive more tips on how to be healthy and live happy! Want more now? Download a free copy of 10 Tips for Optimal Wellbeing.