Research shows that what goes on in your gut can impair or support your immune system and you have the power to look after both, not just for now, but for the future.
The immune system is complex and highly responsive to our external environment, from stress to what you eat. What you may not know is that both the gut and the immune system (opens in new tab) have co-evolved and work alongside each other; so, it makes sense that a healthy gut can support a healthy immune system.
When ‘gut health’ is talked about, what is really being discussed is the physiological workings of your gut (e.g. motility) and the fascinating world of your “gut microbiome, which is an entire ecosystem of microorganisms and their genetic material, such as bacteria, yeast and fungi, which live in, around and on us – the majority taking up residence in you large intestine. Think of your microbiome as a tropical jungle, home to lots of different species, each play their part in immunity and health.
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A diverse gut microbiome is associated with better health. Like any ecosystem, your gut microbiome will occasionally find itself completely out of balance, and this is where you might experience digestive symptoms which can impair your immune system.
We know diet and lifestyle changes can support a healthier gut – These things aren’t found in a “magic elixir” or pill, they are simple, everyday swaps within everyone’s grasp.
Lisa and Alana Macfarlane, Founders of the first platform of its kind The Gut Stuff – a community of ‘gut pros’ including scientists, academics, dieticians, nutritionists and foodies committed to changing the health, wellness and food industry, and backed by over 77K Instagram followers – share their five top tips on how to gut healthy at home.
How to improve your gut health
1. Eat a diet rich in plants
Just like us humans, different bacteria enjoy and thrive on different foods. Research shows we should be aiming for 30 different plant-based foods a week to support a diverse microbiome – so start writing a list now and see how many you achieve! – Plant-based ingredients include non-perishable goods such as nuts, seeds, beans and pulses – so hopefully this takes off some of the pressure!
Nuts and seeds are amazing sprinkled over smoothies, salads and added to stir fries, which are a great way to make sure you’re using everything that you have stocked in the house!
Start changing your mind set to addition rather than restriction!
2. Limit processed foods
It might sound obvious but a lot of highly processed foods tend to include additives and emulsifiers, which can wreak havoc on your garden of microbes. Reducing your intake of processed foods (and drinks!) can be an easy win when it comes to looking after your microbes. Think about simple swaps such as using real cheddar over sliced sandwich cheese or a fizzy kombucha instead of a diet fizzy pop.
3. Get more fibre in your diet
Fibre is the unsung hero of nutrition and 9/10 of us aren’t getting enough of it. It is recommended that we consume around 30g of fibre per day – so you may be relieved to know that it’s not all prune juice and cereals at the source! To put 30g into context, one medium apple is around 2.1g - so it is a high number to hit!
There are lots of different types of fibre (think of different varieties feeding different microbes) , but luckily nature has packaged them up into plenty of plant-based foods – again, variety of different fibres is key! Think whole grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts and pulses.
Fibre plays an important role in gut health, it produces food for your bacteria to ferment, helps bulk out your stools making them softer and keeps things moving. - And more seriously, a diet high in fibre can reduce the risk of developing high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and bowel cancer. So, it has so many benefits beyond helping you “go.”
4. Start a gut health food diary
This is NOT a food diary for calorie counting but to monitor what you’re eating, how you are feeling (mentally and physically), your poos (yes, really!!) and how much you are moving to help you “tune in” to your body and to spot patterns.
When was the last time you asked yourself ‘how am I feeling today’? – understanding and listening to your body is a big part of understanding your gut and often we don’t listen to it until there’s something wrong or you’re not getting along. You’ll be surprised at how much you notice.
5. Where you can – de-stress!
We know we are in stressful times, but stress, anxiety and depression can have a direct effect on your microbiome and how well your gut works and vice versa! Research shows that those suffering from anxiety and/or depression have a less diverse range of gut bacteria than those without.
The current situation likely has us in “fight or flight mode”, taking three deep breaths can switch your body into “rest and digest” mode to tell your body it’s time to relax. De-stressing doesn’t have to be gong baths and downward dogs, find what relaxes you!
For extra support and ideas as to how you can better care for your guts, expert tips or simple, tasty recipes head to check out the Gut Stuff website (opens in new tab).
Wishing you a healthy and happy week ahead!
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