Which foods can help with overall gut and digestive health?
Have you found yourself googling versions of these words?: "best foods gut health" "how to improve gut health" "improve digestion" "what is good for gut".
You're not alone. The NHS website says "around 4 in 10 people have at least one digestive symptom at any one time" - no wonder you're looking for help!
Gut health includes everything inside from chewing to pooing so it's the general condition of your digestive system. good gut health helps us fight off infections. But you might not know that good gut health contributes to the the outer appearance of our skin.
Gut issues can mean unusual bowel movements, constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn, bloating after meals, gas, stomach pain or cramps, food sensitivities or allergies, nausea, fatigue fever and more. Quite the list!
Most people understand that keeping their gut healthy is valuable to overall health. However, studies show that most people are in the dark about which foods to eat to maintain a healthy gut.
If it was easy, we'd all be able to introduce more of the best foods for gut health. So here's some thoughts to keep it simple.
Why we want the best foods for gut health
Most of us know that we need bacteria in our gut. They perform all kinds of tasks for our body. They help us digest and absorb nutrients, provide us with vitamins and protect us against pathogens.
A balanced gut microbiome also helps balance hormones and regulates inflammation (bloating).
Bacteria are used by the digestive system to produce enzymes needed to assist with digestion, such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). SCFAs help control inflammation throughout your body. They also inhibit the growth of unfriendly bacteria and vastly improve intestinal motility when lacking.
There are many ways to keep your gut healthy and improve gut health.
One of the easiest ways to heal your gut is through diet decisions.
You might look for good gut bacteria diets but to keep it simple, foods that are good for gut health include vegetables, legumes, fruits, herbs and spices, whole grains, nuts and seeds – and the key here is colour and variety!
What to eat for gut health 1: vegetables
Love them or hate them, our guts need the nutrients from veg. Vegetables are a rich source of fibre, vitamins and many other beneficial compounds. They help the gut microbiome to maintain homeostasis (balance) and also play a role in protecting against gut diseases.
If you don't think you're getting enough vital veg, to increase your intake, think about variety. Eat the best quality vegetables you can find, ideally from local sources.
Think about eating a range of colours and mix it up with soups, salads, stir fry, casseroles.
If you can't buy fresh, frozen vegetables are great too to have on hand to add into your meals, and can be a great time saver and helps reduce waste.
If you're still not getting enough, try green superfood powders to add to your smoothies. Bish, bash, bosh, done.
What to eat for gut health 2: fruit
Fruit is nature's sweet gift to our guts. Fruits contain fibre and their high water content is great for keeping things moving through the gut.
The digestive system is your gastrointestinal tract (GI) (a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube) plus your liver, pancreas and gallbladder - so anything you can do to help it work more effectively, is great.
The best time to get fruits are when they're in season as that's when they're the best quality. Fruit of different colours gives you a mix of all things good: vitamin C, antioxidants and polyphenols (which help prevent inflammation).
Adding fruit to your diet can be easy with on the go snacks, adding them to smoothies, making desserts with them, even adding fruit to savoury dishes, like salads. The possibilities are endless!
If you find it hard to add fruit and veg to your diet, we say - get fruity, smoothie and soup-y!
What to eat for gut health 3: fermented foods
Fermented foods are great for your gut. Yep, we said it.
Fermented foods are great sources of prebiotics, which feed our friendly bacteria, called probiotics. These then create postbiotics which are the good stuff that maintain digestive health.
The fermentation alters food to make it more digestible, boosts vitamin levels and creates lots of enzymes (converting food into nutrients), as well as breaking down proteins making them easier to absorb.
Top fermented foods: miso (fermented soybean paste); tempeh (fermented soybeans); kefir (fermented dairy drink similar to yoghurt but thinner) and kimchi (a Korean-style spicy sauerkraut salad). The best way is to make these yourself at home – much better than store bought, but you can also find these online from small artisans makers.
What to eat for gut health 4: Legumes
So legumes aren't really a word we use in day to day language.
Legumes (beans, lentils and peas), are great sources of fibre for the gut. Lentils in particular are very high in resistant starch which is difficult to digest but feeds friendly bacteria.
They're also a good source of both soluble and insoluble fibre which help regulate your cholesterol levels. Our favourite thing about legumes how they can help you feel full after eating them so they can also help us stop overeating.
We like to use them as a swap for meat in dishes like chilli, bolognaise and shepherd's pie. We also like pasta alternatives made from legumes. An easy way to get some variety.
What to eat for gut health 5: nuts and seeds and whole grains
Get nut-ty for a good gut-ty (please don't judge us for this terrible pun)
Nuts and seeds are great sources of healthy fats and fibre. They're usually pretty cheap too so they're great for snacks on-the-go or adding to meals like salads and stir fries!
Most nuts contain resistant starch which is difficult to digest but feeds friendly bacteria. Seeds such as chia and flax also contain soluble and insoluble fibre that help regulate cholesterol levels.
Grains are often a trigger for people's guts not being in balance. But if you're fine with them then whole grains and in particular wholegrain breads, cereals and pasta can be a great source of both soluble and insoluble fibre. The benefit here again is regulation of cholesterol levels in your blood stream.
What to eat for gut health: Let's not forget about water!
And don't forget to think about what you're drinking. Are you really drinking enough water to keep everything working as it should?
Men should be drinking at least 2 litres and women should be drinking at least 1.6 litres of water a day. But if you're exercising, it should be more.
Start by making small good gut choices and add them to your daily routine.
That way, you can stop worrying about when and what to eat and drink for good gut health!