The importance of gut health – plus the best and worst foods for your gut
We often hear the words “that’s healthy” or “that’s unhealthy” when talking about food but did you know that there’s more to it than just that? Your gut health is something a little different and something you need to start thinking about.
Everything you eat and drink has an impact on your body whether it be big or small. Some foods and drinks can have a bigger effect on your overall health though. That’s why it’s important to start thinking about what you’re putting into your body and how it influences your gut health.
The focus on gut health has become increasingly prevalent over the last few years and there’s a good reason for it. This blog takes a deeper look into all things gut health and gives you some great tips on the best and worst foods for your gut.
What is gut health?
Your gut has bacteria known as the microbiome and what you eat directly influences the makeup of this bacteria.
Gut health refers to the physical state and physiologic function of the many parts of your gastrointestinal tract.
Basically, what that means is that what you’re eating has a direct impact on your health. A healthy gut reduces your chances of developing chronic diseases like heart disease or cancer and reduces inflammation, keeps your brain healthy and should help you maintain a healthy weight.
By changing your diet ever so slightly, you can keep the bacteria in your gut at a healthy balance which will make you feel better from the inside out.
The importance of prioritising your gut health
Everything you eat is broken down in your gut into a simple form that can enter your bloodstream and be delivered as nutrients throughout your body. But this is only possible if you have a healthy digestive system.
If your gut is healthy, it has healthy bacteria and immune cells that protect you from infectious agents like unhealthy bacteria, viruses and fungi. If your gut is healthy, it also communicates with your brain through your nerves and hormones which helps you maintain your general health and well-being.
What are the signs of gut health problems?
Now that we’ve spoken about the importance of a healthy gut, you might be wondering but how do I know if I have any gut health issues?
Well, most people will experience some sort of digestive problem like abdominal pain, bloating, loose stools, constipation, heartburn, nausea or vomiting at some time. This is pretty normal if it isn’t happening continually. If these symptoms persist for a long period, it may be time to contact a doctor.
Other signs that you have gut health problems could include;
- Weight loss without a good reason
- Blood in the stool or black stool (a sign of bleeding in the gut)
- Severe vomiting
- Severe stomachaches
- Trouble swallowing food
- Pain in your throat or chest when you swallow food
- Jaundice (a yellow discolouration of your skin or eyes)
These symptoms could indicate that you have underlying gastrointestinal problems that could have serious consequences. Please contact your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
What you should and shouldn’t be eating
To keep your gut healthy and avoid any underlying gastrointestinal issues, there are some foods you can introduce into your diet to help with your gut health. There are a few foods you should avoid too.
The best foods
If you have a nutritious diet overall, you won’t need to consume low-nutrient, calorie-dense foods that keep your stomach asking for more. With a well-balanced diet, you’ll feel full, satisfied and your overall health and energy levels will improve.
The best foods to include in your diet to promote a healthy gut are;
- Healthy fats like avocado or nuts
- Nuts and seeds
- High-fiber, low-glycemic carbs like leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflower)
- Slow carbs, like sweet potatoes and butternut squash
- Hypoallergenic proteins (pea, rice, hemp, chia)
- Clean and lean proteins like free-range poultry, fish and grass-fed meats
- Fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut or you can even drink kombucha
- Greek yoghurt
The worst foods
For many people, the two proteins in milk, casein and whey, can be hard to digest. A lot of individuals also lack enough enzyme lactase to break down the lactose in milk which can make you feel bloated, gassy and even give you diarrhoea.
Gluten makes food fluffy like in bread rolls but it can have a negative impact on your gut. Some people have a gluten intolerance which can cause bloating and other symptoms depending on your level of gluten intolerance (this can include rashes on your skin).
Soy and its derivatives can be found everywhere from tofu to edamame to protein bars and powders. Many soy products are genetically modified which means these products are heavily processed which can lead to gut issues like leaky gut (inflammation, digestive issues etc).
Processed and refined foods
The biggest issue with processed and refined foods is that they lack diversity and fibre. They’re often filled with added sugars, salt, artificial sweeteners and/or additives and preservatives. Foods like sweets, biscuits and bread that have huge amounts of preservatives are okay but in moderation. We’re not suggesting you should cut these foods from your diet completely but limit the amount that you eat.
Your microbiome thrives on diverse fibres and polyphenols from a variety of colourful fruits, vegetables and whole grains. This is why it’s so important to focus on creating a diet or lifestyle that has a variety of nutrient-dense food that keeps you satisfied and your gut happy.