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10 doctor-approved ways to improve your gut health

How healthy is your gut? We reveal the steps you need to take to improve your gut health, and in turn your wellbeing

Maintaining gut health is key to maintaining your overall health and wellbeing. An imbalance in your gut microbiome and increased intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut, can predispose you to a number of different health conditions.

GP, Certified Lifestyle Medicine Physician and Functional Medicine Doctor Dr Nirusa Kumaran, Medical Director & Founder of Elemental Health Clinic, shares her top tips on how to improve your gut heath.

Eat 30-40 different plant varieties a week

Whole and plant foods are optimal for feeding the gut microbiome. Plant foods contain phytonutrients which the good species of our microbiome love to feed on. The key is diversity! Our gut microbes benefit tremendously from eating a variety of foods, which is why 30-40 plant varieties a week are recommended. Thankfully, herbs, spices, nuts and seeds are included, so reaching this target isn’t as difficult as it sounds.

Eat a fibre rich diet

Soluble fibre is essential to feed your gut microbiome – aim to get 30-40g of both soluble and insoluble fibre a day. If you feel you lack fibre, start low and go slow. This should minimise bloating and unease from excess gas. If you still feel fibre is lacking it is possible to get fibre supplementation, but always try with your diet first. FODMAP-friendly soluble fibre sources include psyllium husk fibre, acacia gum, methyl cellulose and PHGG (partially hydrolyzed guar gum).

Eat prebiotic foods

Prebiotic foods have compounds that the beneficial bacteria and fungi of your gut microbiome feed on to induce growth and activity. Eating more prebiotic foods will encourage greater microbial diversity.
Examples of prebiotic foods include asparagus, chicory, garlic, eggplant, leeks, artichokes, onions, peas, radicchio, savoy cabbage.

Eat probiotic foods

Probiotic foods are foods that contain our friendly gut bacteria. Eating more of these foods will help diversify your microbiome. Examples include fermented foods, pickled vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, miso, tempeh, natto, kvass, kefir, yoghurts.

Chew food 30 times

Chewing is a vital step in our digestive process; hectic lifestyles have resulted in us ineffectively chewing our food. This means there is greater burden on the stomach to process and break down foods which would have otherwise been broken down in the mouth. This increases the likelihood of developing symptoms such as indigestion, acid reflux and bloating. Small studies have found that eating slowly and chewing effectively can keep you full for longer and therefore stop snacking. So for optimal health, eat slowly and mindfully (appreciate all your five senses when you eat – smell, taste, touch, the look of your food and noises around) and chew each mouthful 30 times.

Drink fluids

Fibre is a great thing but in excess can paradoxically be constipating! Drink plenty of water to improve colonic transit. Opening your bowels regularly is extremely important for toxin elimination from the body.

Reduce stress 

Many are unaware of how intricately connected all our body systems actually are, as is the case with the gut-brain connection via the vagus nerve. While causes for depression and anxiety are complex, our overall health including our diet/nutrition, stress levels, exercise and sleep all play an important role. One mechanism is via the gut – brain axis. Taking steps to reduce your stress will positively affect the health of your gut and vice versa.

Exercise in moderation & deep breathing

Gentle exercise (not high intensity) has been shown to positively affect gut health and improve microbial diversity. Stimulating the vagus nerve by mechanisms such as deep abdominal breathing, meditation and moderate exercise will help diminish brain stress responses and therefore positively impact your gut-brain connection.

Get outdoors

Spending time in nature is an excellent way to improve microbial diversity in the gut. So get muddy, go for a forest walk or to the beach. Each unique natural location has benefits for your gut and will help reduce stress as well.

Limit sugar, processed foods and alcohol 

Sugar and processed foods can propagate the 'bad' microbiome species in your gut. In addition they contain inflammatory compounds which can damage the gut lining. Alcohol is a fantastic steriliser. Can you imagine the sterilising impact it can have on your gut bugs? Limit the intake of these foods and drinks to help improve the optimal diversity of your gut microbiome.

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