The gut is often referred to as our second brain. It contains 70% of our body’s immune system and around 40 trillion bacteria known as microbiota. Diet has a major impact on our gut health and changes can be seen within days. Here are dietary adjustments you can make for your intestinal health that you won’t have to bust your gut to achieve.
When microbiota is unbalanced you can experience diarrhoea, bloating, wind, constipation and generally feel unwell. It can also lead to more serious illness such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, depression, Alzheimer’s, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome and autoimmune disorders. Poor gut health is linked to allergies, intolerances and asthma.
The imbalance in your microbiota can occur due to poor diet; food poisoning; antibiotics or even if your Mother’s diet was imbalanced and you weren’t breastfed. New research has linked children who are given antibiotics in their early years to more chronic disease and obesity in adulthood. One dose of antibiotics can take an adult gut up to a year to recover from.
Eating a diverse range of foods that are high in fibre will benefit and heal your gut. Fruit and vegetables are fantastic and have been shown to prevent the growth of bacteria that cause disease. Choose green peas, broccoli, artichokes, raspberries, apples and blueberries. Legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, kidney, pinto and white beans are also great.
Whole grain bread has a positive effect on intestinal health as do nuts such as almonds and pistachios. Avoid processed and fried foods as they slow the digestive system and low-fibre; high sugar and high fat foods promote the growth of unhealthy bacteria. Alcohol and artificial sweeteners have also been shown to cause imbalance and inflammation.
Hydration is something that is often overlooked with gut health. Drinking plenty of water ensures your digestive system doesn’t slow. Polyphenols are another plant compound often forgotten that also reduce inflammation. They’re found in cocoa and dark chocolate; red wine; grape skins; green tea; spices, berries, nuts and onions.
Probiotics are live strains of healthy bacteria and prebiotics are nourishment that these bacteria need to stimulate positive growth. Eat plenty of prebiotic foods such as asparagus, artichokes, garlic, onions, leeks, bananas and wheat bran. Also, eat probiotic foods like yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha, miso and tempeh.
Probiotics and prebiotics supplements can help restore gut bacteria particularly in those whose systems are compromised due to disease. The health benefits are strain and dose specific so it’s wise to consult a professional if you have particular needs. As a general rule, it’s better to take a supplement with a large number of diverse bacteria.
Gut microbiota has been widely studied but is so complex that it’s mechanisms are still poorly understood. There’s a lot of misinformation out there so make sure you base any major changes to your diet on scientific evidence and advice given by a medical professional specialising in the area. If your gut reaction is that it seems too restrictive or too good to be true – then it probably is.