Having a healthy gut should mean more to you than being annoyed by a little bloating or heartburn. Though there has been an influx of research in recent years on gut health and what’s going on inside our gut, much of the research into gut health is relatively new.Experts are still trying to unravel new information on this complex topic, but from what we know is that too many bad critters hanging out in your gut are linked to numerous problems including obesity, diabetes, depression, cancer, heart disease, eczema and asthma. With strong links between illnesses and an imbalanced microbiome (or gut bacteria), many scientists have begun to refer to the gut as our second brain! To clearly understand how gut bacteria affect you and what you can do to contribute to great gut health, we must also understand the little things we do that ruin it. Varsha Koppikar, Format Head for Nutrition @ cure.fit, sheds light on all of this and more.
Things we do that affect our gut health poorly
Altogether, your gut is a huge chemical factory that helps digest food, produce vitamins, regulate hormones, excrete toxins and produce healing compounds. However, unknowingly, we do numerous things that can ruin our gut health.
- Not eating a diverse range of foods
- Lack of prebiotics
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Frequent antibiotic use
- Lack of physical activity
- Cigarette smoking
- Not getting enough sleep
- Too much stress
What are probiotics and prebiotics and how do they affect gut health?
Intestinal health could be defined as the optimal digestion, absorption, and assimilation of food. But that is a big job that depends on many other factors. The bugs in your gut are like a rainforest – a diverse and interdependent ecosystem. Your gut depends on the right mix or balance of gut bacteria to digest your food properly and to prevent inflammation. This balance can be brought about by probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotic foods contain live strains of bacteria that increase the population of good bacteria in your digestive system. Good sources of probiotic foods include:
- Greek yogurt
- Pickled vegetables
Prebiotic foods are fibers that pass through your body undigested and promote the growth of good bacteria. Good sources of prebiotic foods include:
- Raw banana
- Roots and tubers
- Garlic and onion
- Oats and barley
- Apples and berries
Does a leaky gut make it hard to lose weight?
A controversial subject in the medical community, leaky gut is a digestive disorder in which harmful body toxins and bacteria ‘leak’ through the intestinal walls. This condition occurs when there is an imbalance of bacteria in your gut (dysbiosis), leading to loosening of the intestinal walls' tight junctions. This allows harmful substances to enter your bloodstream, causing gastric issues like:
- IBS ( Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
This inflammation limits your body’s insulin function. Now, it is insulin’s job to create energy by burning off calories from carbohydrates. Its limited functionality will cause your body to store fat instead thus foiling your weight loss efforts. Because there has been no official diagnosis for leaky gut, there is no approved treatment for it. What you can do, however, is follow a strict anti-inflammatory diet advised by the dietician or take probiotics to help balance your gut bacteria.
Probiotic supplements to improve gut health and lose weight
Probiotic supplements have increasingly been advertised as the perfect drug that promotes gut health and strengthens immunity. But now, researchers suggest that probiotic supplements can also be used for weight loss. It’s best to consult with a dietician before trying out new diets and supplements and get their professional advice on which supplement best suits your needs.
Ways to boost healthy gut flora
Eat whole, unprocessed, unrefined foods
One of the best ways to maintain gut health involves cutting out the sugar and refined carbs. Refined white flour, white bread, crackers, cookies, instant oatmeal, white sugar are just some examples.
Add more plants to your plate
Fill 50% of your plate with vegetables and plant-based foods. Your gut bugs really love these high-fiber plant foods like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and prebiotics.
Eat good fats and change your oil
Good fats like omega 3 fats and monounsaturated fats (extra-virgin olive oil) help decrease inflammation, giving healthy gut bugs a chance to flourish. Other good fats include coconut oil and coconut butter.
Remove inflammatory fats
Cut out bad, inflammatory omega 6 rich fats like vegetable oils and trans fats like margarine and dalda. Replace these with healthier oils like extra-virgin olive oil and coconut oil.
Add fermented foods to your diet
Include a mix of probiotic foods like curd, greek yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, kefir and pickled vegetables in your diet.
Drink lots of water
Water is needed for every function, every hormone, every cell in your body - including your gut. Choose it over fruit juices and aerated drinks!
A good workout such as brisk walking, cycling, crunches, yoga and breathing exercises may boost different bacterial strains that will help you lose weight.
Reduce your stress levels
Take some time out for activities or hobbies you enjoy doing, such as reading, yoga or getting stress-relief massages.
Get a good night’s sleep
Be sure to get 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep and remember to practice your favorite stress reduction activities daily.
The above recommendations are not miracle cures. They are simply actions that lead to normalized gut function and flora through improved diet and exercise, increased fiber intake, daily use of pre and probiotics, taking care of stress and sleep and the use of nutrients that repair the gut lining. Remember, the good life is not a destination but a process. You must put in consistent efforts to ensure superb gut health.