Rob Hobson explains how to improve gut health in less than a week
The efficiency of your gut is the bedrock to good health. The gut is a little like a sorting office breaking down food, absorbing nutrients for delivery around the body and then managing waste.
Under normal conditions this should work seamlessly but many of us have experienced the symptoms of sluggish digestion, which can include bloating, excess wind and constipation.
Addressing the health of your gut needs to be approached from a number of angles with diet and eating habits being at the root. To give your gut the best chance of working at its full potential, certain areas need to be addressed and these include:
Facilitating the transit of food through the gut
The single nutrient that has the most influence on how well your body moves food through the digestive tract is fibre. Findings from the National Diet and Nutrition Survey have shown that the average fibre intake of adults does not meet the recommendation of 30g per day, with less than 10% achieving this guidance. Only 4% of women and 13% of men meet the recommended daily intake. Foods high in fibre include wholegrains, pulses, beans, lentils, vegetables, nuts, seeds and dried fruit.
Maintaining the integrity of your microbiome (see below)
Your gut is home to a mind-blowing number of microbes, which form a protective barrier against foreign invaders with the potential to harm our health. The term ‘microbiome’ refers to an ecosystem of microorganisms that live in your gut, which includes a wide variety of bacterial species. We each have a unique microbiome and the composition of microbes that define it are influenced by the world both within and around you. Gut bacteria are essential for efficient digestion and also help to digest antioxidant polyphenols (shown to help reduce the risk of disease) and synthesise vitamins such as B12, D, folic acid and thiamine.
Eating habits and lifestyle factors that can impact on digestion
It’s not just what you eat but how you eat that can impact on digestion. Rushing mealtimes and stress can both lead to symptoms of indigestion, which include bloating, heartburn and reflux.
Food intolerances and conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome can all impact on the efficiency of your gut to digest food properly. Both these issues can inflame the gut and cause unwanted symptoms such as bloating and excess wind. This five-day reset doesn’t cover these causes of poor gut health, but you can monitor the effects of the food you eat by keeping a food and symptom diary to establish what foods may be causing a problem. I would advise seeking the advice of a registered dietitian or nutritionist specialising in this field to help you to look at ways you may need to modify your diet.
Basic principles of food choice for your digestive reset
This five-day reset is not a prescriptive regime and you need to tackle the factors that can upset good digestion as a whole rather than dealing with one-a-day. Try and consider each of these eight points below when choosing what to eat and the sample meal ideas should help to guide you in the right direction when planning your diet. It’s worth saying that adopting the basic principles of healthy eating will go a long way towards maintaining the health of your gut and promoting good digestion.
1. Switch from white to brown
Opting to eat wholegrain varieties of bread, pasta and rice over white varieties is a really easy step in promoting good digestion. Wholegrain varieties contain much more fibre, which assists with the transit of food through the gut and helps to reduce the risk of constipation.
2. Eat more wholegrains
Wholegrain foods include oats, brown rice, barley and rye. Unlike refined (processed) grains, their bran and germ remain intact, making them higher in fibre and other key nutrients. Pseudo-grains such as quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth are also high in fibre and can make an interesting alternative to traditional grains.
3. Eat more pulses, beans and lentils
These foods are not a common choice but are one of the richest sources of dietary fibre. Hugely versatile, they can be used as a base for vegetarian meals or added to salads, soups, one-pot dishes and made into dips. Don’t go hell-for-leather if you’re new to eating these foods and introduce them slowly as they can cause a little bloating, which should subside as the body gets used to them.
4. Eat more veggies
No matter how much we bang on about the benefits of vegetables in the diet, less than a third of the population meet the five-a-day guidance. Vegetables are a rich source of fibre and some varieties act as prebiotics in the body (see below). If bloating is an issue then you may want to steer clear of eating large amounts of typically ‘windy’ vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and sprouts.
5. Eat probiotic foods
Probiotics are bacteria shown to have a beneficial effect on health and including them in your diet can help to promote a healthy microbiome. Recognised strains include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, which can be found in live yoghurt and probiotic shot drinks. Always opt for natural yoghurt and sugar-free shots. Fermented foods such as kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut and miso are also beneficial for gut health and contain many different strains of bacteria. You may also want to include a probiotic supplement in your five-day reset. Choose one that contains recognised strains and a dose of at least 10 billion bacteria per capsule such as Healthspan Super20 Pro £18.99 for 60 capsules.
6. Eat prebiotic foods
Prebiotics are types of fibre that cannot be digested and help to cultivate a healthy microbiome by helping gut bacteria to flourish. Gut bacteria break these fibres down by fermentation to produce short chain fatty acids that supply energy to the cells that line your colon. Foods rich in prebiotics include onions, garlic, leeks, asparagus, bananas, oats and barley. Starchy foods such as pasta, rice and potatoes, which have been cooked and left to cool form resistant starches that also act as prebiotics in the gut.
7. Keep well hydrated
Don’t underestimate the effects of dehydration. One effect of dehydration is a sluggish digestive system and it can contribute to constipation. Fluids are essential if you’re increasing your increasing your intake of fibre as they help it to swell and perform its job properly. Drink plenty of fluids regularly throughout the day.
8. Eat mindfully and manage your stress
During these five days, pay attention to the way you eat as this can have a big impact on digestion. Try to adopt mindful eating techniques such as chewing your food slowly, sitting down to eat and putting your knife and fork down between mouthfuls. Serve smaller portions of food in a single sitting and avoid eating too close to bedtime as this can encourage reflux and heartburn. Make sure you also eat regularly and if you struggle with stress look at ways to manage this as it can influence the gut by affecting the movement and contractions of the GI tract, increasing inflammation and is thought to be a key factor in the development of irritable bowel syndrome.
Finally, if you are If you are suffering with indigestion or heartburn a good homemade remedy for neutralising stomach acid is half a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda mixed in a glass of warm water. Or take an antacid or other OTC stomach calming product like Silicolgel £8.29 for 200ml, an oral gel that forms a soothing coating over the lining of the stomach and intestines. It will also help bind gases and reduce excess acidity. In short, it should help you stop belching and farting. You can also take it before you start eating.