Just how important is gut health?
“I’ve got butterflies in my stomach!”
The correlation between our gut and how we are feeling is something we have had expressed in our language for hundreds of years. We know that when we are afraid or nervous, our tummies feel upset or when we are excited we feel sensations in our stomach too. Our gut has a big role to play in the balance of our whole body health – and more and more research is finding the complexities of this are deep. One clear verdict that is emerging is that gut health leads to an overall healthier life. From having a healthier mental health, sleeping better, and having stronger bones, to having more regular bowel movements, it is important to feed our gut good food.
Gut Health: Reducing Inflammation
Eating foods that feed the bacteria in your gut will help create substances that reinforce the gut and reduce inflammation. Feeding your gut unhealthy bacteria or foods that lack fuel for the gut can lead to chronic inflammation and increase your risk of obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. You need to feed your gut bacteria resistant starch, or starch that resists digestion. This is nourishment for your gut bacteria and the starting point to a healthy gut microbiota. When your gut does not get enough resistant starch, the bacteria begin to struggle and lead to inflammation and a variety of health problems.
“What happens is the bacteria begin to struggle, and because the nourishment that they would provide the large intestinal wall weakens, you get the chance of toxins, bacteria and undigested food particles to cross over into the blood stream.” Dr. David Topping, CSIRO
Improving Bone Health
Having an unhealthy gut can significantly alter nutrient absorption. One area of your body that can be effected by this lack of nutrients are your bones. Your bones require calcium, phosphorus, vitamin D, K2, A and magnesium, just to name a few. If you have an inflammation of your gut, your nutrient transporters that allow these vitamins and minerals to be absorbed into your blood stream for bone health are disrupted. An inflamed gut can also hinder the synthesis of nutrients and activate your immune system to effect bone remodelling.
Improving Mental Health
Having good gut health can also lead to improved mood and overall mental health. A research paper from 2007 found there is a significant link between gut inflammation and anxiety. “We have ways of manipulating the gut – with diet, exercise, probiotics, antibiotics. All this will change the gut flora, but we remain in our infancy in understanding the best way to do this and to reduce disease.” – Nick Talley. Gut bacteria also produce a range of chemicals that send signals to your brain to help you know when you are hungry, to help you feel happy (ie. serotonin) and influence what you eat. So the hypothesis is that keeping your gut healthy will aid you to keep your brain healthy too.
Good Foods For Your Gut
1. Resistant Starch
Sometimes known as prebiotic foods, these foods as outlined above provide fibre to feed your gut bacteria. Foods such as potatoes, bananas, white beans, oats, cashew nuts, lentils, almonds, asparagus, garlic, kiwi fruit, mushrooms, onions and greens. Choosing whole grain foods over white, processed and refined foods, is an easy way to start thinking about increasing your resistant starch input. These foods will also significantly lower your insulin response, which is another way to maintain a healthy, well nourished gut.
Eating a wide variety of foods can really help you to create a healthy and diverse microbiome environment in your gut. Choosing whole foods from all food groups is an easy start. Reduce your intake of junk foods and foods that contain little fibre or nutrients for your body. The more plant based foods you eat, the better your gut will become as you will be digesting a lot more fibre and a diet high in resistant starch. “Low risk populations have around 20-40 g of RS in their diet a day. But in countries where you see low levels of RS is where you also see a rise in “high affluence” diets. RS is greatly removed from these diets because they’re eating modern processed foods that are in stark contrast to traditional foods,” says Dr Topping.
Probiotic foods are foods that have allowed bacteria to ferment naturally over time. Lactobacilli is a common bacteria that breaks down sugars into acids, thus preserving the food. This bacteria has been shown to help create a healthy gut. Some common fermented foods you can start adding into your diet are kimchi, sauerkraut, cured greek olives, miso, buttermilk, yoghurt, cheese, and apple cider vinegar.
While the research findings have still so much to explore, the initial findings have made it clear that we can feel a positive change if we look after our gut. Just choosing to refrain from junk food and choose whole foods can be all you need to start experiencing an all round healthier you.