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The importance of gut health

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In this series of 3 blogs Sara Roberts of Healthy Nibbles guides us through how to keep healthy and happy. See also How to flourish during lockdown and Find time for physical activity.

Ah, the gut… home to around 70% of the whole immune system, it serves many vital roles in maintaining and protecting the overall health and wellness of our bodies.

As we fuel our bodies, the gut breaks down what we consume in order to absorb nutrients that support our body’s functions. If your gut isn’t in tip top shape, your whole body will suffer the consequences. There are many signs of an unhappy gut ranging from an upset stomach, to unexplained weight changes, fatigue, migraines and poor mental health.

So, what’s the key to good gut health? The most important thing you can do to ensure good gut health is to eat more nutritious whole foods – this will feed the good bacteria in your gut. Make sure you’re getting enough fibre from a wide range of plant-based foods (whole grains, nuts, pulses) aiming for over 30 different sources each week. This is easier than it sounds – sprinkle some mixed seeds over your morning oats or opt for an orange pepper instead of your usual red! If your diet is low in fibre, increase your intake gradually to reduce the risk of bloating and make sure to up your water intake.

Prebiotics and probiotics are both needed for a healthy gut. Probiotics are healthy (live) bacteria; prebiotics feed the healthy bacteria. Foods containing probiotics include live yoghurt, kefir and kimchi.  You can get your prebiotics from foods like onion, garlic, artichokes and bananas.

Processed foods are a big no-no and should be avoided wherever possible. More often than not, processed foods are high in salt, sugar, fat and additives. Ingredients in processed foods often add to the ‘bad’ bacteria in your gut whilst suppressing the ‘good’ bacteria. If you find yourself reaching for a convenience product, make sure you check the label in order to find the healthiest option available.

A good sleep regime coupled with regular exercise will also lay the foundations for a healthy gut. Inflammation in the gut is common in those with irregular sleeping patterns, so make sure to get at least 7 hours per night. Exercise has also been found to increase microbial diversity in the gut and keep the digestive system moving. It doesn’t matter whether it’s cardio, weight training, a brisk walk, yoga or Pilates, just make sure to keep your body active!

The gut is extremely complex, and gut microbes vary greatly from person to person for a number of reasons – genetics, age, how you were born, where you live… the list is endless. What works for you in terms of a healthy diet may be different to other members of your family, or friends. What matters most is getting a good balance.

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