The term “gut health” is used to describe the condition of the digestive system as a whole. Taking care of the digestive system is essential, since it affects so many other systems in the body.
Why gut health is important
The gut is vital for breaking down food and absorbing nutrients as well as protecting the body. A healthy gut is essential for a strong immune response and defense against pathogens. To put this into perspective, about 70% of immune system cells are found in the digestive system.
Furthermore, the gut forms a bidirectional communication system with the brain, known as the gut-brain axis (GBA), and can influence mood, cognition, and conditions like anxiety and depression. Mood-controlling hormones such as dopamine and serotonin are actually produced in the gut.
Additionally, the lining of the gut forms a barrier that helps prevent harmful substances, such as toxins and bacteria, from entering the bloodstream. A compromised gut barrier can lead to inflammation and various health issues.
5 key moves to improve gut health
Ali Abdaal, a former doctor turned YouTuber, has published an informative video on his website surrounding gut health which can be found below
In his video, Ali Abdaal along with Sophie Medlin, a well-recognized consultant dietitian specialized in gastrointestinal and colorectal health, recommend the following steps that promote gut health:
#1 Consume 30 different greens every week
Consuming a variety of plants, such as fruits and vegetables, legumes, grains, barley, oats, wheat milks, nuts, seeds, and pine nuts, may help support gut health by stimulating the formation of beneficial good bacteria.
#2 Aim for variation
While many diet recommendations emphasize consistency, looking for variety helps improve gut health. A varied diet promotes the diversity and variety of the gut microbiome.
#3 30 grams of fiber per day
Fiber is a form of carbohydrate that is not broken down and travels to the large intestine, where it acts as a prebiotic, supplying food for the body’s healthy bacteria.
Therefore, it can be beneficial to aim for five servings of fruit and vegetables per day, whole grains with two of three meals per day, and seeds, nuts, and dried fruits for snacks.
Probiotics are living microorganisms found in foods or supplements that are meant to maintain or enhance healthy bacteria in the gut. While the data is not conclusive, studies have suggested that probiotics have beneficial impacts on gastrointestinal symptoms such as lower psychological stress and cortisol levels.
#5 Oily fish
Oily fish, which contain long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, are important for brain health because they increase the population of beneficial bacteria that manage inflammation.
Consuming two servings of oily fish each week is critical for brain health, since oily fish contains 25% of the brain’s protein.
Vegetarians may substitute fish with vegetarian omega-3 sources such as flaxseed, flaxseed oil, canola oil, soybean oil, or taking an omega-3 supplement.
5 things to avoid
Ali Abdaal and Sophie Medlin also warn about dietary habits and practices that may negatively impact gut health. In particular, they advise against the following:
#1 Red meat
To avoid unhealthy meals, limit the consumption of red meat, which has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The World Cancer Research Fund advises just three servings of red meat each week, limiting total consumption to 350 to 500 grams per week.
#2 Processed foods
Processed foods, such as sausages, bread, and chips, are often unhealthy because they include chemicals and preservatives that prevent the formation of beneficial bacteria in the stomach.
Emulsifiers, which are included in many processed foods, break the tight connections between cells in the intestinal wall, causing inflammation and other issues.
#3 Artificial sugars
Moreover, artificial sugars are bad for gut health because they stimulate insulin production, increasing hunger and affecting overall health.
#4 Alternative diets
They may be popular on social media, but detoxing dies should also be avoided since they often lack sufficient medical guidance. Juice cleanses may deplete the body of critical nutrients, increasing oxidative stress and other negative consequences.
Another popular trend, gluten-free diets, are also not affective as some might think. A gluten-free diet is advantageous to people who have celiac disease, but it may not be useful to others.
#5 Avoid simply counting calories
Calorie counting is not always useful in boosting gut health since it does not fully represent food’s nutritional value. Calorie information on food labels may be deceptive, as can monitoring apps.
For instance, cooked celery and almonds have large calorie counts, but digestion prevents the body from absorbing all of them.
Keep in mind
Everyone reacts differently to dietary and lifestyle changes, so it’s important to see a medical practitioner if you’re worried about your gut. They are able to provide tailored advice and care.