We recently sat down with Dr Megan, of The Gut Health doctor to discuss all things gut health. Over some gut-friendly nibbles and healthy drinks, we explored the impact of an unhappy gut, the golden rules for optimising our digestive health and how our emotions are closely tied to our gut health in all sorts of ways.
Talking about the importance of gut health is a conversation we’re so excited to encourage.
So, what are her key tips and tricks for those looking to boost their overall gut health? We’ve jotted down our key points from the evening:
Nutritional diversity is key!
Why? – Each different microbe found in your gut likes different plant-based chemicals, so if we feed them a diverse range of chemicals, then we are going to feed a diverse range of microbes.
Dr Megan repeatedly highlighted the importance of a varied, nutrient-rich diet. “One blanket piece of advice I would give to everyone is to get as many plant-based ingredients in your diet as possible”. Megan advises people to aim for 30 different plant-based foods – that’s nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes and fruits and vegetables. This doesn’t need to involve a significant change in your grocery shop, it could simply be switching from a pack of tender stem broccoli to a multipack of mixed veggies, or adding a mixed bag of seeds to your cereal every morning, it’s surprising how quickly these ingredients can add up – you may reach more than 30!
Carbs are your friend
Why? – Many carbs contain fibre which is vital for good gut health.
Despite the seemingly increasing perception that carbs are the enemy, new research suggests that fibre found in certain carbohydrates contain prebiotics that ‘feed’ beneficial bacteria which live in our gut. Humans can’t digest fibre, it’s sole purpose is to feed bacteria in the gut – but when this bacteria isn’t fed, it gets ‘hangry’ and can begin to eat away at the gut lining instead. Megan even mentioned that research has shown that people who cut out gluten (and don’t have coeliac disease) often have less diverse gut bacteria – so good news, carbs aren’t the enemy!
Switch up your morning routine
In the morning it’s important to facilitate our digestive tract to prepare it for the day ahead, so calming exercise, caffeine and fibre-rich food all help with this. “Just 15 minutes of yoga in the morning can make all the difference” advises Dr Megan. A gut-directed yoga flow is a great way to start your day, with clinical trials proving that it can ease unhappy gut symptoms. Surprisingly, high-intensity workouts can actually cause bowel complications for some, so if you do struggle with bloating, IBS or other gut related issues, why not take a break from your HIIT classes and try some low intensity yoga classes instead.
The gut-brain axis
Although the science behind the links between the brain and the gut is relatively new, we’ve been connecting the two for generations. “I’ve got a gut feeling”, “I’ve got butterflies in my stomach”… clearly our ancestors were on to something because recent studies prove that what we eat can have a direct impact on our mental health. But it’s important to note that it also works both ways and that our mental state can also impact our gut health. Have you noticed that feeling in your stomach when you’re nervous? Or that your IBS symptoms flare up when you’re particularly stressed at work? (Apparently, 1 in 10 people suffer from IBS at some point!) This is down to the gut-brain axis – the back and forth communication between your brain and your gut – it happens constantly and links our emotions to physical symptoms.
Simple ways to help regulate stress and limit its impact on your gut health include:
- Taking time out in your day, focus on your breathing, relax and let your body calm down. There are lots of apps which can help with this – we love Headspace.
- Sleep is so important when it comes to reducing stress, people who get less than 7-9 hours sleep a night are more prone to higher stress levels during the day.
- Exercise does help, but this doesn’t always need to be high intensity, something calming like yoga or even a walk are great relievers of stress.
- Diaphragmatic breathing – this not only calms stress levels but can help relieve trapped gas and prevent bloating.