Liz Alvis Parry
It’s certainly not the most glamorous or appealing of topics, but good gut health is vital for maintaining our overall health and wellbeing. The health of our gut has an effect on everything from good digestion to a strong immune system and even our mental health.
According to research, 70 per cent of our immune system lies in our gut. In fact, we have more cells in our gut than we have in the whole of our body. Our gut is home to a vast community of bacteria – known as the microbiome – some of which are ‘good’ or beneficial to our health, and others which are ‘bad’ or harmful. In an ideal world our gut should contain more good bacteria in order to keep the bad bacteria in check.
Unfortunately, various factors including a poor diet, stress, and taking medication such as antibiotics, can cause the bad bacteria in our gut to outnumber the good bacteria, leading to a condition known as dysbiosis. The symptoms of dysbiosis range from bloating and abdominal pain, to constipation and/or diarrhoea, indigestion, acid reflux and food intolerances – many of which have been linked with the digestive disorder IBS.
So, what can we do to ensure that the bacteria in our gut is balanced and healthy?
Firstly, it may help to cut back on foods and drinks that irritate the gut such as alcohol, caffeine, gluten-containing grains, sugar, processed foods and spicy foods.
Instead, try to follow the principles of the Mediterranean diet, as evidence suggests that this can be beneficial to good gut health. This means eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fish and extra virgin olive oil. Poultry and dairy products tend to be eaten in moderation and red meat is only rarely consumed.
Eating foods that are rich in fermentable fibre, also known as prebiotics, will help to keep your gut happy as the good bacteria need this type of fibre to thrive. Good sources include bananas, oats, beans, lentils, onions and leeks.
Probiotic foods such as fermented milk, kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, raw apple cider vinegar and probiotic supplements can help to support the existing bacteria in our gut and help to stop the bad bacteria from multiplying. It’s worth noting, however, that probiotic drinks tend to be loaded with sugar, which could exacerbate any gut problems. It’s better to opt for probiotic supplements instead.
Lastly, be sure to drink plenty of water – around two litres a day is advisable. And try to keep your stress levels to a minimum. Your gut will thank you for it!