In our last article we learnt why we should care for our gut health. The four main reasons why gut health is so important are:
- Proper digestion and nutrient absorption
- Immune system function
- Mental health impact
- Chronic disease prevention
The first reason, proper digestion and nutrient absorption is crucial for success with your health and fitness goals.
You could be eating all the right things, getting enough exercise and sleep but if your gut’s ability to absorb, digest and transmit your body’s nutritional needs is impacted, then all of your efforts to get fit and lose fat will be going to waste.
The gut and brain are connected by the enteric nervous system, which is sometimes referred to as the “second brain.” This nervous system, a network of neurons is found in the walls of the digestive system, and communicates with the brain through the vagus nerve.
When we eat, signals from the gut are sent to the brain to indicate our energy and nutritional levels. For example, when the stomach is empty, it sends signals to the brain to stimulate hunger. As we eat, the gut sends signals to the brain to indicate that we are full and should stop eating.
In addition to hunger and fullness signals, the gut also communicates information about the nutritional content of the food we eat. For example, when we consume carbohydrates, the gut releases hormones such as insulin and glucagon-like peptide-1, which signal to the brain to release insulin and regulate blood sugar levels.
Similarly, when we eat protein, the gut releases hormones such as cholecystokinin (CCK) that signal the brain to regulate appetite and metabolism.
If these signals are out of sync, it can cause mixed signals and reduce our ability to curb cravings, or it can lead to deficiencies in essential nutrients that are necessary for maintaining a healthy weight.
Diverse gut microbiome and weight maintenance
A healthy gut microbiome is a diverse array of beneficial bacteria. It’s not fully understood how many different microorganisms there are in the human gut but it’s estimated anywhere up to 400 trillion.
Research has shown that a diverse gut microbiome is associated with a healthier weight. A lack of diversity in the gut microbiome can contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance, and other factors that can make it harder to lose weight.
Inflammation and insulin resistance in the body can lead to many other health issues such as; joint paint, skin issues, fatigue, asthma, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and fatty liver disease.
8 ways to ward off bad gut health
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. A diet high in fiber, vegetables, fruits and maintaining good gut health. These types of foods help to promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
- Reduce your intake of processed foods. White bread, pasta, sugary drinks, sweets and pastries (to name a few) all have an impact on your gut health. Bad bacteria feed off sugar and help them to grow, contributing to an out of balance gut microbiome.
- Manage stress. Life is by nature generally stressful but it’s important to manage this as much as possible. Stress can have a negative impact on gut health. Practicing stress-reducing techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing can help to improve gut health.
- Limit the use of antibiotics. Antibiotics can disrupt the balance of bacteria in the gut, so it is important to only take antibiotics when they are necessary.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is important to keep the digestive system moving and promotes regular bowel movements.
- Get regular exercise: Regular exercise can help to promote good gut health by improving digestion and reducing inflammation
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption: Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can damage the lining of the gut. This leads to inflammation, so it is important to avoid or limit these habits.
- Consider probiotics and prebiotics: Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help to improve gut health, while prebiotics promote the growth of beneficial bacteria. Incorporating foods that contain probiotics and prebiotics, or taking supplements may help to maintain good gut health.
Good snacks to support gut health
- Dark chocolate
- Pumpkin seeds
- Fermented foods such as kefir or miso soup
- Rice crackers
- Goats milk yogurt
- Edamame beans
If you feel like you’ve been working hard and doing all you can to get fit and lose weight, but are struggling and feel like you’re affected by some symptoms of bad gut health, with the support of your doctor or a qualified nutritionist, try following these suggestions.
Maintaining a diverse gut microbiome through a healthy diet, regular exercise, and stress management can help to support gut health, and overall health and well-being.