Doctors often refer to the gut as the body’s second brain, and with good reason. Here’s why a healthy gut is more important than you think, plus tips from the experts on how to improve poor gut health, fast.
The importance of a healthy gut
“One of the lessons I learned in nutrition school is that you are not what you eat – you are what you digest and absorb,” explains author, nutritionist and wellness writer, Jessica Sepel. “The purpose of good digestion is to turn the food you eat into fuel for your cells.”
Naturopath and clinical director of Bodhi Wellness in Melbourne, Elise Grauer agrees, “One of the best ways to achieve a healthier body and mind is to nourish and support the ecosystem of bacteria living inside your digestive system.” This is why it’s vital to keep the trillions of microbes (bacteria) residing in the gut, healthy, happy and well fed, she adds.
What contributes to poor digestion?
The delicate ecosystem in your gut can be disrupted due to several factors, including:
- Overuse of antibiotics
- Too much alcohol
- A diet high in sugary, fatty foods
The problem with poor digestion
“Many of my clients suffer from poor digestion – which in turn means they feel fatigued, foggy, bloated and experience constipation, diarrhoea, uncontrollable weight gain or weight loss, hormonal imbalances and general nutritional deficiencies,” says Jessica, who hails from South Africa, but is now based in Australia.
Due to the fact that 70-80% of your immune system is located inside the gut, anything that throws it off can cause several health problems, even mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety, explains Johannesburg-based registered dietician, Mayuri Bhawan.
When gut flora is functioning optimally, a series of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) are produced. These help to boost overall cell function and support the body in getting rid of toxins. This means that good gut health plays an important detoxifying role too.
Probiotics vs Prebiotics
Probiotics are live bacteria found in dairy products and probiotic supplements. Prebiotics are specialised plant fibres that nourish the good bacteria that are already in your large bowel or colon. So, while probiotics introduce good bacteria into the gut, prebiotics boost your existing good bacteria.
Here are our top tips to restore optimal gut health:
1. Fill up on apples
When it comes to good digestion, choosing the right foods and drinks can make all the difference. Foods with healthy bacteria can help to maintain a healthy balance in your gut, boost digestion and ease bloating. Registered Homeopath and Naturopathic doctor, Dr Robin Kohler suggests eating at least two apples a day, which will help to promote good bacteria and reduce overall inflammation in the body.
Tired of eating whole apples? Try a small serving of this apple sauce recipe with your breakfast granola, or in your favourite smoothie:
2. Choose the right probiotic supplement
Although it’s important to include more probiotic foods in your daily diet, the International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics advises choosing a good-quality probiotic supplement with the right strain of bacteria to suit your individual needs.
Probiotics are safe for most people, but talk to your doctor first if you suffer from an immune disorder or have a serious underlying illness.
3. Don’t forget the prebiotics!
To boost your gut health, Dr Kohler says you should try to include the following prebiotic foods in your diet (otherwise supplement with a good probiotic supplement):
- Nuts and seeds
- Legumes such as soaked chickpeas
- Fresh raw cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens
- Yams or sweet potato
- Dandelion leaves
- Aloe vera
- Chicory root
- Onions and leeks (cooked if you react badly to raw)
4. Avoid sugar
If you want a flat tum and healthy digestive system, try to eliminate sugar and drink plenty of water to keep food moving.
Too much sugar promotes bad bacteria and inflammation. If you’re suffering from irritable bowel syndrome or severe gut inflammation, chat to a dietitian who can assist in a low-carbohydrate diet plan too, as excess carbohydrates can also aggravate the gut and worsen symptoms.
Also try chromium picolinate, a natural mineral which helps the body effectively deal with insulin. It has also been found to reduce sugar cravings in those who use it regularly.
We recommend Clicks Chromium, R67 for 90 capsules
5. Eat more cruciferous vegetables
If you’re not a fan of plain broccoli or Brussel sprouts, start getting creative with juicing and add as many of these gems into your raw juices as possible.
Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and kale contain incredibly valuable compounds which help to regulate the immune system, speed up elimination of toxins and regulate gut bacteria. Plus they help to prevent cancer, bonus!
6. Check your vitamin D status
Vitamin D is fundamental to digestive health as it regulates multiple checkpoints in the body and helps to reduce overall inflammation, especially in the gut says Dr Kohler.
Consider supplementing with vitamin D3 if you’re deficient. Speak to your doctor about how much you need per day. A good vitamin D supplement is Metagenics vitamin D3 Liquid, R174,95.
7. Take omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s help to reduce inflammation in the gut as well as support the immune system and promote better digestion.
8. Say hello to sauerkraut
Sauerkraut is finely chopped cabbage, which has been naturally fermented by lactic acid bacteria, explains Mayuri.
It’s cured with salt and packed into a jar or bowl and submerged under its own brine, which begins the fermentation process. While fermenting, it promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria that can help to replenish the supply of good bacteria in your gut.
Top Tip: Enjoy your sauerkraut raw. Heat kills the live bacteria, so if you cook or buy pasteurised sauerkraut, you won’t benefit from its probiotics.