Do you feel sluggish all the time? Or wake up with a flat stomach, only to look six months pregnant by lunchtime? Are you dealing with delightful issues like constipation? Do you catch every cold, or is your skin dull, even though you slather on a slew of top-notch products?
Your gut might be to blame.
The gut is a bit of a puppet master. It affects all systems, from your digestion and metabolism to your skin, hormones, energy, mood, immunity and weight.
Here’s how it works. The digestive system converts the food you eat into fuel. The gut needs more ‘good’ than ‘bad’ bacteria (microflora) to function at its best, so when that bacteria is out of whack – thanks to things like sugar, stress, antibiotics, and eating packaged foods – it slows everything down. Your body can’t digest and absorb the nutrients from your food properly, leaving you with those super fun issues.
On the flipside, when your gut is working well, it boosts your metabolism, energy and immune system, and wards off mood swings. It can also help to clear up your skin (hello, glow!), reduce bloating, and balance hormones. And if you’re trying to shed those Christmas kilos, a good gut burns off fat more effectively.
Whew! So, to say goodbye to those tummy troubles and just feel better overall, take on these tips to improve your gut health.
Clean up your diet…
Yep, you knew this was coming! To help your gut reach its ‘potential’, eat wholefoods when you can. Now, we’re not saying to only nibble on lettuce, but just cut down on processed foods. Our bodies weren’t built to break them down, so they strain our digestive systems. Plus, they’re usually packed with sugar and sodium, which eat away at the good bacteria in your gut.
Eat these foods for gut health:
- Protein – chicken, fish, lean red meat, eggs, lentils and tofu
- Wholegrains – quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice and oats
- Healthy oils – olive oil and coconut oil
- Herbs and spices – cinnamon, cumin, parsley, turmeric, mint and coriander (if you’re not a hater).
- Cooked foods – these are more soothing than raw foods, so if you always feel uncomfortable after eating, swap your salad for cooked veggies
- Probiotic-rich foods – more on this soon, but some examples are kombucha, miso soup, and sauerkraut.
Avoid these foods:
- White carbs – white bread, rice and pasta. The alternatives taste the same, don’t worry!
- Gluten – try cutting it out for a few weeks and see if you notice a difference, especially in energy and bloating
- Soft drinks – all those bubbles can cause gassiness. No, thanks
- Chewing gum
- Dairy – some people have no issues with dairy, while it makes others feel sick. If that’s you, ditch it and go for coyo, almond milk and coconut milk instead
- Packaged foods
Cut back on sugar…
Sugar has a way of sneaking into unsuspecting products, like pasta sauces, condiments, salad dressings, peanut butter and cereals. Cheeky! To steer clear, look at the nutrition label: if sugar is in the first 3 ingredients, don’t buy it. And instead of using refined sugar, honey and maple syrup to sweeten your food, try rice malt syrup, cinnamon, vanilla and stevia – which is all-natural and 100 times sweeter than sugar. #winning.
As for artificial sweeteners like Equal and Splenda, they’re full of crap. They mess with your gut bacteria, and can actually increase sugar cravings.
Alcohol does affect the balance of bacteria in your gut, but wine is also one of life’s simplest pleasures – so what do you do at that boozy brunch?
Just sip on ‘cleaner’ options. Swap white wine (it’s full of sugar) for red, and stick to clear spirits. Think gin, vodka, or tequila with soda water and lemon/lime. Not too bad, right?
Up your fibre intake…
When it comes to gut health, fibre is a star. It sweeps up toxins in the gut (yum) and stabilises blood sugars – which means you’ll be less likely to have raging three-thirtyitis and run to the vending machine. As a bonus, that does wonders for weight balance. Finally, fibre helps to get things moving, which is essential for your general health as a human AND also cleanses the gut.
To boost your fibre, eat lots of dark, leafy greens (such as spinach), as well as wholegrains, legumes (like lentils), chia seeds and flaxseed. An easy fix is adding a tablespoon of psyllium husk to your morning porridge or smoothie.
Pop a probiotic every day…
Your gut will love you for it. Probiotics help to balance out gut bacteria, and make digestion a smoother process. By doing that, they also have a good effect on your energy, metabolism and weight management.
If you’re, uh, blocked up more often than not, take magnesium before you go to bed, too.
And if you have IBS or other digestive troubles, see a naturopath or drop into a health store to ask for a stronger gut-healing supplement. Don’t be embarrassed – those issues can cause toxins to build up, and no one wants to live life by the toilet.
Top tip: Exercising also gets things moving! Even if you’re feeling bloated and gross, do some yoga stretches (all that bending kick-starts digestion), or go for a walk after dinner.
Eat slowly and chew, chew, chew…
Guilty of gulping down your food? It’s not going anywhere, so there’s no need to rush. To digest properly, your body needs to be relaxed – and inhaling your food stresses your system out.
Give your gut a helping hand by eating slowly, mindfully and in a calm state. To do this, sit down to eat, rather than eating while standing or driving. This signals to your body that it’s time for a meal. Then, put your fork down between each bite (Mum was right), and chew each mouthful 10-20 times. This takes time getting used to, but it makes your digestive system’s job easier. Your stomach doesn’t have teeth!
There’s nothing worse than feeling overly stuffed, so when you’re about 80% full, stop eating. It takes 20 minutes to digest, so if you’re still hungry after that, then you can go for seconds. And if you get hangry when you don’t eat every few hours, try having five small meals a day, rather than three big ones. This trick will also stop you from eating everything in sight when you get home from work…
Words by Katia Iervasi.