5 tips to keep your gut healthy

Your gut plays a major role in maintaining your physical and mental health – but how do you keep it healthy?

Your gut is the key to many things, including the state of your mental and physical health. If your gut health becomes increasingly poor, you’re more likely to experience physical symptoms such as lethargy and acne [1]. And due to the link between the gut and the brain, you’re also at an increased risk of developing depression and anxiety if you’re not fuelling your body with the right foods [2].  

It's time to make your gut health a priority. And we’re here to help with our five tips. 

Five tips to keep your gut healthy 
 

1. Get fibre-rich

Fibre (unlike most other types of food) is not digested, instead, it travels through the whole digestive tract. In doing so, fibre helps to: 

  • Keep gut cells healthy  
  • Support the immune system 
  • Clear out the waste in the digestive system 

Certain fibre types can also act as prebiotics, which feed and support healthy gut bacteria (such as lactobacilli) [3].  

It’s recommended that adults should eat 30g of fibre a day, though the average fibre intake in the UK is around 60% of what it should be [4].  

High-fibre foods include: 

  • Wholegrain pasta and bread 
  • Oats  
  • Fruits with skin on (such as apples, pears, and kiwis) 
  • Bananas  
  • Broccoli  
  • Nuts and seeds  

If you’re struggling to increase your fibre intake, you could also try: 

  • Eating your fruits and vegetables whole (or chunky) rather than blended into a soup or smoothie 
  • Leaving the skins on fruits and vegetables  
  • Choosing wholegrain over white carbohydrates  
  • Adding fruits, nuts, and seeds to your breakfast cereals 
  • Choosing foods that are labelled as high-fibre 

However, it’s important to remember that if you are eating more fibre, you also need to increase your water intake. This leads us to point number two.  

Get fibre-rich by increasing your intake of fibre in your diet. Fibre helps in several digestive functions and could be the key to bettering your gut health. 

2. Stay hydrated 

An increase in fibre can be one of the first steps in resolving constipation, but have you ever increased your fibre intake and still been blocked up? That’s probably down to a lack of water. 

Fibre absorbs fluid like a sponge, and the more fibre you add to your diet, the more fluid is absorbed. Therefore, to ensure you don’t become dehydrated, you need to increase your fluid intake alongside your fibre intake – if you’re feeling thirsty, you’re too late.  

To pre-empt dehydration, try and build in some healthy hydration habits.  

Healthy hydration habits include: 

  • Setting an hourly alarm to drink  
  • Getting a large water bottle that you take everywhere with you  
  • Having a glass of water first thing after waking  
  • Reducing your caffeine and alcohol intake (as these can counteract the water you drink and, in excess, are more likely to dehydrate you) 

If possible, try and have water as your main fluid intake, though milk, tea, coffee, and (low-fat, sugar-free) juices all count towards your daily fluid intake [5]. 

Fibre absorbs water, so, to avoid dehydration and keep your gut healthy, try some of our healthy hydration habits.

3. Manage your stress levels

When stressed, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which not only restricts blood flow within the digestive system but, in excess, can also alter your gut microbiome [6]. 

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Stress and gut health can be clearly linked through the gut-brain axis (a complex system of neural connections connecting the brain and the digestive system). This means not only can stress cause poor gut health, but poor gut health can also cause an increase in stress.  

To reduce stress levels, try some of our top ten ways to de-stress

Stress and gut health are linked via a two-way street. High levels of cortisol can cause poor gut health, but poor gut health can also cause high levels of stress. Keep calm and try our top ten ways to de-stress

4. Befriend fermented foods

More recently, the likes of sauerkraut and kefir have grown in popularity. Why? Because they’re a superfood that increases gut health. Foods that have undergone the process of fermentation (the breakdown of sugars by bacteria and yeast) are rich in probiotics and can help restore a healthy gut microbiome – in turn, improving the balance and function of gut bacteria [7].  

Fermented foods include: 

  • Natural yoghurt  
  • Sauerkraut  
  • Kimchi 
  • Kefir  
  • Tempeh  
  • Kombucha  

Fermented foods such as these can also help to reduce the levels of a family of bacteria that is linked to several chronic diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and coeliac disease.  

Increasing amounts of evidence are even pointing towards the use of these and other probiotics to reduce flares of these conditions [7]. 

Get friendly with fermented foods as they’re full of good bacteria that can help reduce your risk of gut diseases such as IBD and coeliac disease.

5. Cut down on sugar

Most free sugar (sugar that’s been added to food and drink) is absorbed in the small intestine, but sometimes excess sugar can feed some of the bad bacteria and yeasts in the gut [8].  

Bad bacteria are usually present in the gut and rarely cause problems. However, an overgrowth of bad bacteria could overwhelm the friendly gut flora and upset the microbiome balance, leading to inflammation in the body [9]. 

It’s much better to instead base your diet on complex carbohydrates and other carbohydrate-rich foods, such as wholegrains and potatoes. Most of these foods contain the added benefits of fibre, and many are also slow-release sugars (helping you to maintain your energy levels more steadily over time). 

Any sugars added to your foods can feed the bad bacteria in the gut. Don’t overwhelm the friendly gut flora with the bad, and keep your sugar intake low and your complex carbohydrate intake higher.

The takeaway  

Our guts are intrinsically linked to our bodies, immune systems, and minds, so a healthy gut is fundamental in supporting our health.  

Using our top tips on healthy eating and reducing stress levels will not only help boost your gut health but your general physical and mental health too. Even small changes to your diet can benefit your gut health, so why not see what changes you can make? 

In short, look after your gut, and your gut will look after you. 
 

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References 

  1. Bowe, W.P. and Logan, A.C. (2011) “Acne vulgaris, probiotics and the gut-brain-skin axis - back to the future?,” Gut Pathogens, 3(1), p. 1. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1186/1757-4749-3-1
  2. The gut-brain connection (2021) Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/the-gut-brain-connection#:~:text=A%20troubled%20intestine%20can%20send,GI)%20system%20are%20intimately%20connected (Accessed: February 22, 2023). 
  3. Zou, J. et al. (2018) “Fiber-mediated nourishment of gut microbiota protects against diet-induced obesity by restoring il-22-mediated colonic health,” Cell Host & Microbe, 23(1). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chom.2017.11.003
  4. Bda (no date) FibreFibre | British Dietetic Association (BDA). Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/fibre.html (Accessed: February 22, 2023). 
  5. Water, drinks, and your health (no date) NHS choices. NHS. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/food-guidelines-and-food-labels/water-drinks-nutrition/ (Accessed: February 22, 2023). 
  6. Hantsoo, L. et al. (2019) “Childhood adversity impact on gut microbiota and inflammatory response to stress during pregnancy,” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 75, pp. 240–250. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2018.11.005
  7. Bda (no date) Probiotics and gut healthProbiotics and gut health | British Dietetic Association (BDA). Available at: https://www.bda.uk.com/resource/probiotics.html (Accessed: February 22, 2023). 
  8. Laurian, R. et al. (2019) “Hexokinase and glucokinases are essential for fitness and virulence in the pathogenic yeast candida albicans,” Frontiers in Microbiology, 10. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2019.00327
  9. Satokari, R. (2020) “High intake of sugar and the balance between pro- and anti-inflammatory gut bacteria,” Nutrients, 12(5), p. 1348. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12051348

 

 

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