For some, tummy troubles appear in the way of bloating, for others, it’s constipation. But did you know that maintaining good gut health goes far beyond just relieving digestive discomfort?
More and more research has linked gut flora to broader health issues, and here, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Chloe McLeod takes us through why looking after your insides should always be on your to-do list.
Apart from relieving the discomfort of digestive issues, why should we be taking gut health so seriously?
Our health is being shown to be significantly impacted on by the health of our gut, and as such our food choices. An unhealthy microbiome has been linked with numerous health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, bowel cancer and depression. If things are out of balance, it increases the risk of these conditions developing. On top of that, day to day IBS symptoms can have a huge impact on quality of life.
The gut is usually referred to as the center of our bodily functions, why is this the case and why is gut health such a pivotal part of our overall health and wellbeing?
The gut contains millions of healthy bacteria, and these influence mood, which vitamins and minerals are produced in the gut. Having an unhealthy gut impacts on numerous different systems, which can then increase the risk of developing other health conditions.
How exactly is the gut and immunity linked?
The gut resists bacteria through two barriers; the mechanical, and the immune barrier. Gut bacteria maintain resistance against colonisation of unhealthy bacteria by competing for nutrients and attachment sites on the surface of the colon, whilst also helping with development of the immune system itself. Gut bacteria also promote health by regulating gut motility, producing vitamins, transforming bile acids, absorbing minerals, and activating and destroying toxins.
As of late, we’ve been hearing about the link between poor gut health and feelings of depression. What effect can the gut have on our emotions and how can this be managed?
Individuals with depression often have significantly different types of bacteria in their gut than people without it. This is similar to other research showing differing bacteria between obese and healthy weight individuals. There is also evidence that irritation in the gut (be it from food, environmental triggers or other stressors) may send signals to the central nervous system that then trigger mood changes. Also, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, with both these conditions being known triggers for symptom development.
What are some gut-loving foods you recommend including in an everyday diet?
Plenty of fibre, especially prebiotic foods. This includes many wholegrains, legumes, fruits and vegetables. Also, inclusion of foods rich in resistant starch, such as banana and cooked and cooled potato (the resistant starch forms as it cools), plenty of water, and nuts and seeds as well.
When it comes to probiotics, what qualities should we be looking for when selecting the right one?
Choose one that is a high dose (at least 10million CFU), often a mix of different types of probiotics. Also choosing one where research has been indicated to help the specific reason you’re taking it is a good idea, though this area is certainly still very new and changing regularly as more research is done.
What are your tips for maintaining a healthy gut over the holiday season?
Even though there may be more unhealthy foods consumed than usual, it’s important to still make the effort to include plenty of fibre from vegetables, wholegrains, fruits and legumes, drink plenty of water, and if choosing to drink alcohol, doing your best to not go overboard.
Ready to take control of your gut health? Click here to learn more about THE FODMAP CHALLENGE! Next round starts January 10, 2018.