In recent years, gut microbiome and gut health has become a trending topic. The current level of knowledge is progressing at a significant rate. Even recently, dietary alteration of the gut microbiome has been shown as an important target in the treatment of obesity. Activity of gut bacteria may influence not only our health but also the risk of developing diseases.
Microorganisms comprise only a small, although significant, percentage of the weight of a human body (around 1-2 kg of live bacteria). In terms of cell numbers, we are about 10% human and 90% bacterial. The majority of these bacteria live in our digestive system. To give you an idea of the hidden enormity of our digestive tract, the small intestine alone can be around 6 metres long! Therefore, you can imagine how bacteria can play a major role in bodily functions, including immunity, digestion, and protection against disease. Interestingly, the human colon has the largest population of bacteria in the body.
Therefore, should we be looking more at the health of our gut to hit our goals? While there are other factors which influence our overall health including our genetics and our environment, here are a few tips for overall gut health to keep in mind:
This doesn’t just mean eat a variety of any foods. It should still hold the basic principles of being wholefoods and predominantly plant based. Fruits and vegetables are an obvious yet great example of how you can enjoy a variety of food - different colours are an easy way to ensure adequate variety. Doing this will also ensure you are including foods with different vitamins, minerals, fibres, water contents and glycemic index. Along with this, eating with the seasons is a great way to increase your variety. Often, getting your fruit and vegetables at the farmers market will be the easiest way to do this as the farmers are selling the produce that is in season - this can also be a cheaper way to purchase your food in bulk too. By including this wide range of produce, it may increase the diversity of gut bacteria that you have.
This might sound like a basic strategy, however, it's really the beginning of the digestive process. Once we smell and taste food, the enzymes in our saliva (salivary amylase) start the process of breaking down carbohydrates into smaller molecules ready for absorption in the digestive tract.
Fibre is vital for the health of our whole digestive tract. Not only does it help with the diversity of our gut bugs in our large intestine, its needed to help the flow of bolus (another term for food as it gets broken down) through our digestive tract.
This may be easier said than done, however, stress is linked to your gut through the Vagus Nerve, which is widely recognised for its activation of parasympathetic ‘rest-and-digest’ responses. It’s important to look at your level of stress long-term as it can be affecting more than you think. Some simple techniques for reducing stress may be to lower your caffeine during the day (especially in the afternoon), setting some time aside for meditation or stretching, decreasing your phone or technology use or going to bed slightly earlier.
Overall, keep in mind your gut is not just a separate ‘entity’, but is now being regarded as critical to the effective function of many other systems and processes in the body. Just as a simple example, the majority of your body’s serotonin (happy, feel-good chemical) is actually made in your gut and NOT your brain.
By implementing some of these strategies, you may be able to improve your gut health for the long-term. For more healthy eating habits, be sure to visit our blog.