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Health

10 quick gut health boosters

by Maureen Rice
10 quick gut health boosters
Illustration: Connie Noble

If you vowed to look after yourself in 2022, start by taking care of your gut – research suggests it’s at the very foundation of our health and wellbeing

You will have noticed the term ‘gut health’ has become a major buzzword in recent years, but this is a rare case where a health issue is trending with good reason, supported by evidence-based medical science.

As Dr Sarah Berry, a reader in nutritional science at King’s College London explains, ‘The gut is far more important, and more widely involved in the health of our whole body, than we had previously realised.’

The big breakthrough discovery of recent years has been the gut biome. This is basically a complex ecosystem of literally trillions of bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that live inside our digestive tract – most of which come under the simplified but basically accurate description of ‘friendly bacteria’ – and which, we now know, impact virtually every organ and function of the body, from heart and liver health, to chronic illnesses like diabetes and many cancers, and even our mental health.

The good news is that genetics only influences about 30% of our gut biome – the rest is largely down to us and our diet, environment and lifestyle.

The best thing most of us can do to optimise our gut health is to eat a Mediterranean-style, plant-based diet. ‘This doesn’t mean you have to be vegetarian,’ says Dr Megan Rossi, also known as The Gut Health Doctor (theguthealthdoctor.com). But it does mean a diet rich in veg, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, herbs and spices, with smaller amounts of olive oil and animal foods. ‘Aim for 30 different types of plant foods a week, and at least 30g of fibre a day,’ she says. Eating whole foods and cooking from scratch are important too – our guts generally don’t like convenience and heavily processed foods.

Given how important gut health is to our overall health and wellbeing, we want to do all we can to look after it, so it can look after us.

10 quick gut health boosters to try

We asked Sarah Berry and Megan Rossi for some simple steps to boosting our gut health
 
If you have gastric problems, such as IBS or IBD, are pregnant or taking medications, not all of these tips will apply. Always check with your doctor first.

1. Be antibiotic aware

Antibiotics kill off ‘friendly’ bacteria as well as nasty bugs, so only take them when essential.

2. Sleep well

Poor sleep tends to make us eat more, and eat poorer quality foods.

3. Fermented foods are our friends

Foods like natural yogurt, kimchi or sourdough are full of vitamins and organic acids.

4. Manage your stress

The gut and the brain are closely linked. Meditation, yoga and breathing exercises can all help.

5. Stay hydrated

Fibre needs plenty of fluids to work properly.

6. Mix it up

Eat as many different kinds of foods (especially plants) of as many different colours as you can: dark greens, red cabbage, mixed peppers…

7. Go outside

Woods, fields, waterways – your gut loves different environments and their microbes!

8. Exercise

Getting your heart rate up for about 30 minutes helps keep your digestion working smoothly and boosts the diversity of your gut bacteria.

9. Oil up!

Add some omega-3 to your diet: oily fish, chia seeds and walnuts are good sources and help boost your good bacteria.

10. We’re all biologically unique

Not all advice works for everyone. Keep a personal diary to see how your body responds to certain foods and meal times and adjust accordingly.

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