As mothers, we’ve all experienced at least one time in our life where we watched in awe as our belly took on a life of its own, growing, fluttering, kicking, turning. For most of us, pregnancy is the only time we truly take notice of the life that exists within us.
Did you know that there is, and always has been, another amazing life functioning within each and every one of us? A life that collectively has up to 300 times the number of genes than the entire human body itself?
It is called our gut microbiota, the ecosystem of microorganisms living in our digestive tract. But how much do we really care or know about our guts? Not much it would seem, but with recent advancements in genetic research technology, microbiologists are making some significant discoveries that many believe have sparked a new frontier in medical research and health care.
Like all ecosystems, our microbiota needs to be in balance in order for us to function at our best. This is why we feel so sluggish during periods of indulgence – we notice a difference in our skin, energy, mood and digestive system just to name a few. All too often, how we feel and look on the outside is a reflection of our internal gut health.
So what is the key to good digestive health? The good news is that our microbiota responds well to changes in our diet. The even better news is that there is growing evidence supporting a link between our microbiota and modern disease epidemics. So making even small changes to your diet on a daily basis could pay dividends in the long run.
Here are my top 3 tips to improve your gut health.
- Increase your daily intake of dietary fibre
Dietary fibre can be found in all plant based foods. It plays a key role in feeding our good gut bacteria the nutrients they need to flourish and produce the substances that keep us healthy.
Fibre keeps us feeling full for longer, adds bulk to our stool and helps to ‘sweep’ our digestive tract free of stagnation. It is recommended that an average healthy adult consumes between 25-30g of dietary fibre each day.
Here are a few simple tips to increase your daily intake of dietary fibre:
- Aim to eat at least 5 servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit each day.
- Choose wholegrain/high-bran/multigrain options as a rule. Check the nutrition panel on the packaging of your cereals and breads for dietary fibre content and swap them for higher fibre content products wherever you can.
- Eat cooked then cooled starches like baked potato (skin on) and ‘al dente’ pasta, as they are high in resistant starch, which is a type of fibre favoured by the good bacteria in the gut. In moderation these ingredients can easily be added to a family meal and usually go down well with the kids!
- Add beans/lentils/legumes to salads, stews, soups and casseroles. They are an excellent source of fibre.
Some words of warning…
Beans. Beans are good for the heart, the more you eat, the more you start… to feel gassy. This goes for all fibres so if you’re going from a low-fibre diet to a high fibre diet, be sure to increase your intake of dietary fibre slowly with plenty of water, as it may otherwise cause excessive gas and bloating.
- Drink more water
Water works together with fibre to ‘flush out’ waste of our intestines and keep our stools soft enough to be more easily expelled. The recommended daily intake of water is 8 glasses, which can often be hard to keep on top of. Starting the day with 1-2 glasses of water first thing in the morning is a great way to get a head start on your water tally for the day.
You may even like to add a splash of lemon juice to your early morning water intake. Anecdotally, lemon water is believed to give the digestive system a kick-start for the day, and if nothing else, it will add a helpful dose of vitamin C to your diet. Lemon and tooth enamel don’t mix so remember to take steps to protect your teeth by brushing immediately afterwards or even using a straw.
- Eat fermented foods (they contain probiotics)
Yoghurt is the most commonly known fermented food product. There is however, a large variance in the probiotic qualities between popular supermarket brands. It pays to take a closer look at the number and type of live cultures listed on the labelling of your yoghurt – the more the better (plain Jalna Yoghurt is a good option). If you’re not a huge yoghurt fan or would like to try something different, other types of fermented foods include miso, kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha and kefir.
Other things to consider
- Cutting down on alcohol, artificial sweeteners and processed foods are always a good idea, but this is particularly so in consideration of our gut microbiota – good gut bacteria simply does not thrive on these products!
- There are a number of gastrointestinal conditions and diseases that produce symptoms of bloating, excessive gas, constipation and diarrhoea. If you’re concerned about these symptoms please speak with your GP to rule out medical reasons before considering a higher fibre diet.