The strength and integrity of the digestive process is truly the epitome of health.
Our digestive system is the engine room of our body - if it’s clogged up and out of kilter, we can’t absorb nutrients. Hello, all-too-familiar sluggish feeling and plummeting energy levels. It always comes as a surprise when we discover some people don’t make the link between feeling grim and poor digestive health. We’re here to change that.
It’s a topic that isn’t exactly discussed around the family dinner table or taught in school so that’s why we’re shining a light on loving your gut in this latest post. We’re going to take you on a journey of how being more mindful about gut health can drive optimal digestion resulting in a healthy immune system, balanced moods, steady energy and strong vitality as much welcomed side effects.
Here’s our lowdown on 10 tried and tested activities and dietary practices that will show your gut some much needed loving.
1. Eat a Varied High-Fibre Diet.
Fibre, also known as roughage, is the part of plant-based foods that the body simply doesn’t have the power to break down. It travels through the body, undigested, giving your digestive system a tidy along the way helping to keep it clean, healthy and free of unwanted passengers. All good things come in threes, and so does fibre. There are three essential varieties you should incorporate into your diet: insoluble, soluble and resistant starch.
Insoluble fibre doesn’t dissolve in water, its the bulky fibre that helps to prevent blockages and is found in whole grains, cereals, and veggies such as carrots, celery, and tomatoes. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and helps control blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol. Key sources of soluble fibre include oatmeal, nuts, and fruits such as apples, pears and all in the citrus family.
Resistant Starch is fibre that resists small intestinal breakdown and is fermented by ‘friendly’ bacteria to produce butyrate. Butyrate a short-chain fatty acid that powers the lining of the gut and is most famous for protecting against colon cancer. The protection comes from its anti-inflammatory effects which reduce oxidative stress and help control free radical damage. You can boost your butyrate by eating resistant starches such legumes (chickpeas, beans, lentils), rye bread and firm bananas.
There’s more to fibre than just eating enough, it’s essential to consume this fibre threesome, each one taking on important and specific roles to support digestive and bowel health.
2. Incorporate Probiotics Into Your Diet.
Probiotics are live bacteria and yeasts that are good for your health, especially your digestive system. When we hear the word bacteria, our mind jumps to germs that cause disease, but our bodies are in fact bursting with good bacteria. These are probiotics and they work very hard to keep our digestive system healthy. We can support digestion by upping our intake of probiotic-rich fermented foods. Cultured or fermented foods are rich in the enzymes and probiotics which fly the flag for healthy tums and balance gut flora.
One of the most renowned cultured vegetables is sauerkraut. Sauerkraut is prepared simply using cabbage and salt, and warm temperatures to ensure that beneficial microbes can thrive. The tangy, distinctive taste comes from the lacto-fermentation process which also produces health-inducing probiotics in the process to promote healthy digestion.
The Asian cousin of Sauerkraut, Kimchi, is also an excellent probiotic promoter. Kimchi aids in cleaning up the intestines and stimulates quality assimilation of nutrients in the body.
Incorporate these two probiotic-rich foods into your diet and your gut flora will be flourishing.
3. Pack Prebiotic Foods Into Your Diet.
Probiotics are essential for a healthy digestive system, but it's also beneficial to eat prebiotic-rich foods too. Prebiotics are types of fibre that friendly bacteria in the gut thrive on.
Prebiotics have numerous health benefits such as inhibiting cancer, enhancing the immune system, and preventing obesity. They have shown effective improvements in 91% of all human trials. They have also been shown to reduce symptoms of bowel related issues such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease.
You don’t have to look far to find prebiotic-rich foods - garlic, onions and leeks all act as prebiotics by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and prevent harmful bacteria from growing. For a gut-loving grocery shop, make sure you pick up asparagus, flax seeds, chicory root and Jerusalem artichokes too. These prebiotic superstars are bursting with the fibre inulin which is on a mission to nourish friendly bacteria, improve digestion and relieve a clogged up system (no one wants that!)
4. Understand the Gut-Brain Axis.
Stress causes a natural chemical response in the body with the core purpose of keeping us alive. In fact, this fight-or-flight chemical response was vital for our ancient ancestors when everyday survival was paramount.
Today, we don’t need to live every day in fear of dodging woolly mammoths or prehistoric predators, but our bodies are still wired to release the stress hormone cortisol when the going gets tough. Digestive function shuts down in response to cortisol and fight-or-flight signalling, which can mean loss of appetite, large and undigested food particles, flatulence, leaky gut, cramping and constipation - this is known as the gut-brain axis.
Stress is not wholly avoidable (we wish it was!) but there are many ways to mitigate the impacts of stress. Our recommendations include meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, deep breathing and spending time in nature and with your loved ones.
Another renowned stress management technique is ‘The Body Scan’, a mindfulness-based stress reduction practice developed by clinical psychologist and long-time Buddhist practitioner Jon-Kabat Zinn. The Body Scan is said to cultivate greater awareness of the ways unconscious thoughts and feelings can undermine emotional and physical health. If you’ve tried ‘The Body Scan’ technique, we’d love to know if you’ve reaped the benefits from this practice.
5. Make Exercise Work for You.
While everyone knows that exercise is great for overall fitness and emotional wellbeing, it also plays a crucial role in keeping your digestive system running smoothly. Keeping active relieves stress and helps maintain a healthy weight - two things that can affect digestion. Exercise also helps relieve digestive complaints, such as constipation and bloating, and allows your body to absorb nutrients more effectively.
Sometimes though, with the demands of life, even just thinking about regular exercise is enough to bring you out in a sweat (hello cortisol!) We automatically think that we must go to the gym or register for a class, but there are actually everyday activities that we can bring into our routine that will get the heart pumping and digestion flowing.
Walking instead of driving, using the stairs instead of the lift, setting yourself speed challenges when doing the housework, whatever it is, it’s key that you approach each activity with vigour and energy to succeed. You’ll win back time, save money and keep your health in check. This positive approach to exercise is much more manageable and will soon become second nature.
Putting our gut-loving hat on though, it’s super important not to exercise after you’ve eaten. In fact, after you’ve eaten, you have our permission to kick back and relax, because relaxation stimulates the vagus nerve that facilitates good digestion. If you eat on the run or exercise within two hours of eating a meal, then not only will you feel sluggish, but the exercise will inhibit digestion. So there you go, this is your excuse to dive into your favourite Netflix series after dinner. You’re welcome.
6. Eat Foods Rich in Vitamin C.
Found in a number of fruits and vegetables, including strawberries, spinach, citrus fruits and red peppers, vitamin C is essential for good health, and healthy digestion. The Linus Pauling Institute reports that vitamin C works as an antioxidant in your body, helping protect against harmful chemicals caused by the digestive process. The antioxidants in vitamin C help to destroy these free-radicals and protect the body against damage. Healthy vitamin C intake helps to keep your digestive tract healthy and able to function at an optimal level - pass the lemons!
7. Watch Your Portion Size.
Mountainous portions are the leading cause of indigestion. We recommend using a smaller plate, 50% of which should be veggies, 25% carbohydrates and 25% protein. It really is as simple as that.
8. Keep a Digestive Health Diary.
Learn more about yourself and study your digestive system. If you’re having stomach upsets and can’t shake the feeling, keep a gut-health diary. Tracking your loo habits and being more aware of how the food you eat impacts on how you feel will help you to recognise specific triggers that may lead to digestive discomfort.
Everyday symptoms such as stomach rumbling, bloating or constipation could be important signals that may indicate changes to your digestive system.
When assessing the health of your bowels, the best place to start is the Bristol Stool Chart. Created by Dr Ken Heaton at the University of Bristol in the 1990s, the chart categorises each stool type alongside what it means for your body - it’s an easy way to diagnose what indeed could be up down there.
9. Sleep on Your Left Side.
Ancient Ayurvedic medicine, India’s most trusted health system, emphasises the importance of using the left side for rest and sleep to see health and longevity benefits. Sleeping on the left side allows gravity to encourage food waste to move more easily from the small intestine into the large intestine through the ileocecal valve. After a good night’s sleep keeping to the left, you’ll emerge in the morning ready to say goodbye to waste which has been flowing the right way through the night. Thank you gravity, sorry toilet.
10. Drink Fermented Beverages Such as Kombucha or Jun Tea.
Fizzy, fermented and blooming delicious, gut-health tonics are a staple in any gut-loving fridge. Both Kombucha and Jun Tea contain billions of probiotics which are delivered directly to the colon. Their nutritional profile goes beyond probiotics, too, since they both carry immune-boosting vitamins which regulate mood and give your metabolism a kick.
With fruity flavours, you’re also getting that all-important vitamin C hit which will fight off those nasty free-radicals during digestion. Not to get too scientific here, but the primary difference between the two drinks is their SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). Jun Tea is trained to feed off honey rather than sugar - making jun a super powerful probiotic promoter. It’s also bursting with live enzymes and acids which makes it quite a star-studded cast of ingredients, we’re sure you’ll agree.
Discover more about the wonders of Jun Tea and Kombucha over here.
Has Your Gut Said “Thank You” Yet?
We hope that this guide to giving your gut some love will inspire you to give it the care and attention it deserves. A healthy gut microbiome not only helps digestion, but it does wonders for both psychological and physiological functions. If you want to learn more about the intricacies of your gut and some evidence behind good gut care, our blog “Why’s Everyone Talking About The Microbiome” is a great piece of further reading.
Please share your gut health journey in the comments below, and if you have a tip to share with the Loving Foods family, we’d love to hear it.