All About Gut Health & Nutrition
Did you know that the gut microbiome consists of no less than 100 trillion bacteria that affect every aspect fo our wellbeing? The route to good health goes via the gut. The gastrointestinal tract is where the journey to a healthy body begins. Starting from transporting food from our mouth to stomach and converting the food into more absorbable nutrients and energy, and ending with shuttling waste out of our body, this whole process will be disrupted if the gut nutrition is insufficient.
The GI system or the gastrointestinal system has trillions of bacteria. Researchers earlier believed that it helped with digestion and processing food, but recent studies have shown that gut nutrition has a much bigger role vis-a-vis immunity, emotional stress and chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes and cancer. In fact, researchers have touted it as the Next-Gen Frontier in Preventive and Therapeutic Medicine.
The gut is often called the “second brain”. So what happens on the days when this ‘second brain’ feels out of sync? Your entire system goes for a toss. Some of the causes of poor gut health are poor diet, stress, chronic stress, overdoing antibiotics, excessive intake of hot & cold beverages, lack of sleep, and in some cases, chronic illness. The gut diet ensures that the microbiome — the bacteria and other microorganism flora in the intestines and stomach are healthy.
7 Best Foods for Gut Nutrition
Having gut health problems are relatively easy to tell, as it shows direct signals as gas issues, bloating of the stomach, stomach pain, diarrhoea and nausea, which all indicates gut microbiome is thrown out of balance.
Following a balanced diet with sufficient hydration and exercise should ensure gut health is at prime. Below are the best food habits for ideal gut nutrition:
1. Prebiotic fibre: Prebiotic help support probiotics under challenging environmental changes like temperature change or disruption in PH balance.
Prebiotic include GOS or galacto-oligosaccharides and fructans that are a type of fibre that passes through the GI tract undigested and promotes good bacteria’s growth. Gut nutrition would be incomplete without prebiotic included in the diet.
Foods naturally high in prebiotic include legumes like lentils, red kidney beans, fruits like watermelon, custard apple, vegetables like garlic, onion, beetroot and peas.
2. Probiotics: Probiotics are yeasts and other live bacteria which play a vital role in gut nutrition. In situations where you are unwell and had to eat anti-biotics, it would kill the good bacteria in the gut as well; in which case, probiotics help replenish the lost good bacteria and restore the needed balance.
There are two significant groups of probiotics: Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus. The former produces lactic acid and acetic acid as the end product of fermentation, whereas the latter produces lactic acid alone.
Yoghurt, kimchi, fermented vegetables, kombucha, sauerkraut are a few examples of foods rich in probiotics.
3. Eat less sugar and artificial sweeteners: Excessive sugar in the diet creates an imbalance in gut bacteria by creating inflammation. The ideal balance is 85 per cent good bacteria to 15 per cent bad bacteria, and excess sugar is food for harmful bacteria, and this balanced percentage gets disrupted with the growth of the unwanted bacteria.
As for the artificial sweeteners, most of them contain aspartame which promotes bacterial strains. Avoiding artificial sweeteners as a lifestyle choice should help to achieve ideal gut nutrition.
4. Increase vegetarian foods in the diet: The topic of gut nutrition would be incomplete without mentioning natural fibres, which vegetables are rich in fibre as opposed to meats. Having a balanced diet with a variety of vegetables, mostly green leafy vegetables, improves gut health. A study showed that in a selection of subjects who were obese, when their diet changed to strict vegetarianism, they had lower levels of inflammation in the gut and helped in weight loss.
5. Lower consumption of processed foods: Whole foods benefit from nutrients being intact, which otherwise gets lost in the manufacturing of processed foods. Moreover, processed foods are generally loaded with either too much sugar, artificial sweeteners or salt along with preservatives, all of which interrupts smooth digestion.
6. Coffee: Coffee helps relieve constipation as it stimulates the movement of muscles in the colon and promotes bowel movement. Though coffee is beneficial, consume it in moderation and do not consider coffee as a medication for constipation. Additionally, coffee has 2.5 times more polyphenol than tea, which helps with the metabolism of these molecules by gut microbes. A new study also states that coffee may be protective against pancreatitis and gallstones, though more research is needed in the field, and results are inconclusive.
7. Collagen-rich foods: Collagen boosting foods added for ideal gut nutrition includes salmon, eggs, lean meat, and bone broth, all of which can improve leaky gut and overall health of the digestive system. According to a study conducted in 2011, glutamine, an amino acid present in collagen, preserves the gut barrier function and improves the lining of our gastrointestinal tract.
7 ways to boost your gut nutrition
Many of us have depleted our gut health with poor gut nutrition and lifestyle choices, and bacteria interact with our hormones like leptin and ghrelin that regulate appetite.
Below are a few tips to be followed to improve gut health to maintain the right balance for physical and mental health:
1. Reduce alcohol consumption: Though a glass of wine improves gut health as per the latest studies, excess alcohol inhibits the production of digestive juices and enzymes, making it difficult for your body to absorb, digest and breakdown nutrients from food.
2. Start exercising: A study shows that regular exercise promotes the growth of bacteria that produce a fatty acid called butyrate, which can repair the gut lining and reduce inflammation, thereby preventing diseases like insulin resistance and inflammatory bowel disease that leads to diabetes. Additionally, exercise also helps to manage IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome and eases bowel movement.
3. Lower your stress levels: It would be interesting to know that optimal gut microbiome balance is fundamental for the smooth functioning of the enteric nervous system located in the gut, also dubbed the second brain. Apparently, this influences our serotonin levels, responsible for our mood, 95 per cent of which is produced in our bowel. You could control your stress and lower it with essential oils like lavender, herb-infused tea, yoga and meditation.
4. Eat Slowly: As they say, ‘digestion begins in the mouth’. Chewing your food slowly and breaking it down makes half of the digestion work easier for the GI tract and absorbs the nutrients better.
5. Eat probiotic supplements post an intense medication course: Generally, doctors advise to have a supplement course of probiotics post an antibiotic course of medication. Antibiotics can’t differentiate between harmful and good bacteria, and is specifically designed to kill bacterial infections, in the process, ends up disrupting the overall balance of gut microbiota. Sleeping pills, antidepressants, antacids and painkillers are also known to disturb the balance of the digestive system.
6. Consumption of prebiotic fibre: Prebiotic fibres are soluble fibres that form ‘food’ for healthy bacteria, and including it in your diet makes it ideal for gut nutrition. Prebiotic fibres also improve metabolic health and prevent certain diseases. Apples, bananas, barley, cocoa, berries are a few examples of prebiotic food.
7. Quit smoking: Smoking contributes to alterations in the gut microbiome. The reason for this is that while smoking, your bloodstream is filled with toxins that kill healthy gut bacteria. Once you quit smoking, studies say that the microbial diversity in the gut is replenished.
What is Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS)?
Digestion involves the processing of food by breaking it down to smaller particles in your mouth, absorbing vital nutrients and minerals from the food consumed and ends with the release of undigested food particles by the body as stool. This entire process needs the ideal gut nutrition and lifestyle choices to ensure it runs like a well-oiled machine.
Your gut lining acts as a filter with small holes that allow the passage of specific substances only. Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS) or intestinal permeability is an illness wherein this gut lining is damaged, allowing harmful unwanted bigger substances entering your body.
This means the small holes in your gut lining, which acted as a barrier from toxic substances as harmful bacteria and undigested food, has turned to larger holes causing damage to health.
Leaky Gut Syndrome or LGS is rapidly growing among people the world over. Although LGS is predominantly an illness of the digestive system, its effect could rupture other organs as well. It also causes imbalances in gut microbiota, triggering the body’s immune response and leading to increased Intestinal Permeability (IP) and gut inflammation.
Effects of Leaky Gut Syndrome or LGS
Leaky Gut Syndrome (LGS) is known to cause long-term conditions like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and chronic fatigue syndrome.
The following conditions and treatments for those conditions can cause damage to the gut lining:
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory Bowel Diseases like Crohn’s disease
- coeliac disease
- chronic kidney disease
- cystic fibrosis
- complicated surgery
- chemotherapy medication
Here’s what killing your gut…
- Poor gut nutrition: Consuming processed and genetically-modified (GMO) foods, alcohol, and painkillers are a few culprits.
- Dysbiosis: Dysbiosis, a bacterial imbalance between healthy and harmful bacteria in the GI tract, is the leading cause of LBS or leaky gut syndrome.
- Stress: Prolonged stress can weaken your immunity system and hinder your body’s ability to eliminate bad bacteria, resulting in leaky gut and inflammation.
- Lack of sleep: Sleep and gut nutrition are interconnected. It is important to maintain sleep and wakeup cycle, which helps reduce stress. Melatonin is a hormone that our bodies make mostly at nighttime, as it helps us fall asleep. This melatonin hormone also helps regulate GI mobility and when it goes off-balance, your gut health goes for a toss.
- Overload of toxins: Pesticides from vegetables and fruits, contaminated water, antibiotics, aspirin to even particles of dishwashing soap and floor cleaners, our body is exposed to 80,000 toxic and chemical substances every day. All of these toxins also lead to leaky gut syndrome.
An ideal diet for gut patients with the leaky gut syndrome
Eating a diet rich in ingredients that promote healthy gut bacteria can help keep your health in check. An imbalance in beneficial versus harmful bacteria leads to an unhealthy amount of harmful bacteria in your system, which triggers conditions like type 2 diabetes, chronic inflammation, cancer and heart diseases.
Below is a list of the best foods for gut diet and improve the condition of leaky gut:
- Fruits such as grapes, coconut, banana, papaya, citrus fruits, pineapples, and strawberries contain natural fibres and minerals, which makes them best foods for gut diet.
- Fresh and root vegetables, tubers such as carrots, broccoli, beetroot, brinjal, spinach, mushrooms, yams, potatoes and squash. Raw onions have a pigment called quercetin, which fights against damaging free radicals in our bodies and is an excellent prebiotics source.
- Garlic helps keep harmful gut bacteria under control and balances yeast in your gut with its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Ginger helps relieve symptoms of IBS like cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. It also helps to kill harmful bacteria that cause acid reflux.
- The gut diet plan Seeds like flax, chia and sunflower seeds are forms of concentrated fibre that relieves constipation and diarrhoea, making them ideal ingredients for healthy gut nutrition.
- Apple Cider Vinegar, or ACV being naturally anti-microbial, can inhibit the growth of bacterias high in lipopolysaccharides(LPS), which are endotoxins that increase leaky gut syndrome.
- Coconut milk, oil, water and even the flesh are packed with goodness that is beneficial for managing gastrointestinal disorders. The lauric acid in virgin coconut oil is anti-fungal, anti-microbial and anti-bacterial, restoring needed balance in gut microbiota. Coconut water has magnesium which prevents constipation and aids bowel movement along with replenishing fluid content.
- Cultured dairy products such as kefir, greek yoghurt, and buttermilk are excellent probiotics.
- Fennel seeds or saunf contain anethole which relaxes intestine muscles and relieves constipation, acid reflux and gassiness.
- Fatty fish rich in omega-3s like tuna, herring, anchovies, mackerel, and salmon help reduce inflammation and aids in healthy gut nutrition.
- Fermented pickles like kimchi, kombucha and sauerkraut are high in probiotics and antioxidants and work wonders for gut nutrition.
- The diet for gut patients must-have gluten-free grains like gluten-free oats, brown rice, amaranth and buckwheat.
- Peppermint or pudina has antispasmodic and cooling properties that are ideal for relieving irritable bowel syndrome symptoms (IBS) like bloating, gas, pain and constipation.
Foods should be excluded from the diet for gut patients
Just how eating the right foods is essential for your gut health, so is avoiding certain foods from the diet for gut patients:
- Artificial sweeteners
- Processed meats like sausages and cold cuts
- Gluten-rich grains
- Refined Oil
- Junk food like potato chips and candy bars
- Store-bought snacks like biscuits and crackers
- Alcohol and carbonated drinks
- Baked goods like cakes and pastries
- Salty sauces like soya sauce
- Wheat-based products like pasta, bread and couscous
Drink recipes to include in your gut diet
Kanji: Vegan Probiotic
1 tbsp coarse-ground mustard seeds
4–5 peeled and chopped carrots
1 large peeled and chopped beetroot
6–7 cups filtered water (or enough to cover the vegetables)
1 tbsp salt (according to taste)
Combine all the ingredients in a glass jar and cover it with a lid or cheesecloth.
Let the jar sit in a sunny spot for at least one week — stirring with a wooden spoon daily.
Once the kanji develops a tangy flavour, it means the drink is fermented.
Strain the drink.
Put the drink in the refrigerator to chill.
Buckwheat Tea: Natural Prebiotic
20 g buckwheat groats
1 cup water
Roast buckwheat groats in a medium fry pan.
After roasting, put 20 g of buckwheat groats in hot water.
After 5 minutes, tea is ready.
Get more healthy & delicious drink recipes for over 100 health issues in 50 Desi Super Drinks by Lovneet Batra