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5 simple steps to keeping your gut healthy

Gut health plays a major role in maintaining our overall health and well being. Read our 5 tips for keeping your gut healthy.

The intricacy and complexity of the gut and its importance to our overall health and wellbeing is a topic of increasing research in the medical community. The human gut is home to over 100 trillion bacteria, known as the gut flora. Did you know that if you gathered all of your gut bacteria together, they would weigh approximately 1kg?! [12]

Like a fingerprint, the mix of bacteria in your body is different from everyone else's mix. The good bacteria in the gut microbiota help the body to create all sorts of compounds essential for optimal functioning, like neurotransmitters, short-chain fatty acids and certain vitamins such as vitamin K. They aid in the digestion of certain foods and play an important role in the immune system. 

Importantly, the bacteria can only do their job if they are given the right nutrients.

Here are our 5 simple steps to keep your gut healthy:

1. Eating plenty of fibre

Dietary fibre is a term used for plant-based carbohydrates that are not digested in the small intestine like other carbohydrates but reach the large intestine or colon. Fibre helps keep gut cells healthy, supports our immune system and supports the digestive system to clear out waste. 

Certain fibre types can act as prebiotics, which can feed and support healthy gut bacteria such as bifidobacteria, lactobacilli and bacteroidetes [1]. One to boost your own natural good gut bacteria is by eating prebiotics [12] such as onions, garlic and banana.

Current guidelines recommend that adults eat 30g of fibre a day but the UK’s fibre intake is around 60% of what it should be [9]. You can check the quantity of fibre within a food on the nutritional label, but it's also essential to eat a wide variety of different fibre sources. High-fibre foods include wholegrain pasta and bread, oats, apples, pears, berries, bananas, broccoli, carrots, seeds and nuts…

Here’s some tips to increase your fibre intake: 

•    Eat fruits and vegetables whole rather than blended.
•    Leave the skins on fruits and vegetables.
•    Choose wholegrain over white carbohydrates.
•    Add fruits, nuts and seeds to breakfast cereals.
•    Add beans and lentils to dishes.
•    Choose foods labelled as ‘high-fibre’, which contain 6g of fibre per 100g.

2. Drink enough fluid

Drinking plenty of fluids and keeping hydrated is important for maintaining gut health, as fluid supports the digestive system to work optimally. Fibre can absorb fluid like a sponge, so if you increase your fibre intake, you should increase your fluid intake alongside it; it is known that dehydration is one of the main reasons behind constipation.

It’s surprising to know that as soon you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated! So, it is essential to build healthy hydration habits. You should aim to drink 6-8 glasses of fluid a day (about 1.5-2 litres); it’s good to know that milk, tea, coffee, sugar-free juices and water all count towards your daily fluid intake [11]. If you are exercising, breastfeeding or in a hot climate, you may need even more than this. You should always opt for low-calorie, low-fat and low-sugar juices and smoothies because fluids could contribute a large number of calories into your day. 

3. Manage stress

During stressful times, the body releases hormones that increase breathing and heart rate and prepare the muscles to respond to a threat. When faced with a perceived threat, the body’s fight or flight system triggers in a well-choreographed sequence that has evolved over millions of years. One of the major areas where blood flow becomes restricted during times of stress is the digestive system. Also, psychological stress leads to the release of cortisol. Elevated cortisol levels due to a stressful event, have been found to alter the gut microbiome [8]. 

Between the gut and the rest of the body, it’s a two-way street where stress impacts gut health and gut health impacts how the body manages stress. The brain and gut constantly communicate through the gut-brain axis, a complex bidirectional system of neural connections involving the central nervous system and the enteric (digestive) nervous system. 

Keeping your stress levels to a minimum through regular activities such as meditation, exercise, socialising, and planning-ahead could be crucial to avoiding gut problems and maintaining a healthy gut in the long term. 

4. Up your intake of fermented products.

Fermentation is a process that involves the breakdown of sugars by bacteria and yeast. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics that help restore a healthy gut microbiota and intestinal barrier. 

Probiotics are ‘good’ bacteria found in food products or supplements that can benefit our health by improving the balance and function of the gut bacteria [12].

Fermented foods such as natural yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, tempeh and kombucha have been shown to promote the abundance of healthy gut bacteria [5, 12] and reduce the levels of enterobacteriaceae, a family of bacteria linked to a number of chronic diseases. 

What’s more, increasing amounts of evidence is pointing towards the use of probiotics to treat certain gut conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) [12]. 

5. Cut down on sugar

We all know that when consumed in excess, sugar is not good for our bodies. More and more research suggests that this may also hold true for the balance of our microbiome. 

Most bacteria in the gut supports the body, but there are bacteria present that can have some negative impacts on your health. Most of the time, the good bacteria outweigh the bad, so the bad bacteria do not cause problems. However, if the balance of microbes shifts, this could affect your health…

What does this have to do with sugar? Well, just like us, bacteria that reside in the gut need to eat. While plenty of us has a sweet tooth, our gut certainly doesn’t. Most ‘free sugar’ is absorbed in the small intestine, but sometimes excess sugar can feed bad bacteria and yeasts such as candida albicans [4]. Normally present in the gut without causing any problems, an overgrowth of bad bacteria may overwhelm the “friendly” gut flora and upset the balance of gut microbes. This may increase the growth of inflammatory bacteria, which could cause greater inflammation in the body [7, 12]. 

It is much better base our diet on complex carbohydrates, which are found in fruits, vegetables and other carbohydrate-rich foods such as wholegrains and potatoes. Many of these foods contain the added benefits of fibre and many are slow-release sugars, which can maintain your energy levels more steadily over time. 

In summary

A healthy diet is essential to support your gut health. But our guts are intrinsically linked to our bodies, immune systems and minds, so a healthy gut is fundamental in supporting our health holistically. Even small changes to your diet can benefit your gut health, so why not see what changes you can make? In short, look after your gut, and your gut will look after you.  


References

1. Zou, J., Chassaing, B., Singh, V., Pellizzon, M., Ricci, M., Fythe, M., Kumar, M. and Gewirtz, A. (2019). Fiber-Mediated Nourishment of Gut Microbiota Protects against Diet-Induced Obesity by Restoring IL-22-Mediated Colonic Health.

2. Turnbaugh, P., Hamady, M., Yatsunenko, T., Cantarel, B., Duncan, A., Ley, R., Sogin, M., Jones, W., Roe, B., Affourtit, J., Egholm, M., Henrissat, B., Heath, A., Knight, R. and Gordon, J. (2008). A core gut microbiome in obese and lean twins. Nature, 457(7228), pp.480-484.

3. Ott, S. (2004). Reduction in diversity of the colonic mucosa associated bacterial microflora in patients with active inflammatory bowel disease. Gut, 53(5), pp.685-693.

4. Laurian, R., Dementhon, K., Doumèche, B., Soulard, A., Noel, T., Lemaire, M. and Cotton, P. (2019). Hexokinase and Glucokinases Are Essential for Fitness and Virulence in the Pathogenic Yeast Candida albicans. Frontiers in Microbiology, 10.

5. Marco, M., Heeney, D., Binda, S., Cifelli, C., Cotter, P., Foligné, B., Gänzle, M., Kort, R., Pasin, G., Pihlanto, A., Smid, E. and Hutkins, R. (2017). Health benefits of fermented foods: microbiota and beyond. Current Opinion in Biotechnology, 44, pp.94-102.

6. Shillitoe, E., Weinstock, R., Kim, T., Simon, H., Planer, J., Noonan, S. and Cooney, R., 2012. The oral microflora in obesity and type-2 diabetes. Journal of oral microbiology4(1), p.19013.

7. Satokari, R., 2020. High Intake of Sugar and the Balance between Pro-and Anti-Inflammatory Gut Bacteria.

8. Hantsoo, L., Criniti, S., McGeehan, B., Tanes, C., Elovitz, M., Compher, C., Wu, G. and Epperson, C.N., 2018. F160. Cortisol Response to Acute Stress is Associated With Differential Abundance of Taxa in Human Gut Microbiome. Biological Psychiatry83(9), pp.S300-S301.

[9] https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fibre.html


[10] Zoetendal, E.G., Raes, J., Van Den Bogert, B., Arumugam, M., Booijink, C.C., Troost, F.J., Bork, P., Wels, M., De Vos, W.M. and Kleerebezem, M., 2012. The human small intestinal microbiota is driven by rapid uptake and conversion of simple carbohydrates. The ISME journal, 6(7), pp.1415-1426.

[11] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/water-drinks-nutrition/

[12] https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/probiotics.html