The first thing to understand is just how important it is to look after your gut. You might be interested to know that most diseases come – or originate – from this part of your body, as it’s your first line of defence. That can be anything from good and bad bacteria, to type 2 diabetes and more. Everything you eat has to pass through your gut, so while it’s actually quite difficult to look after it all the time, it’s really important that you do. And that’s not so easy at this time of year, when you’re likely to be drinking more than usual, and eating more bad foods than you would normally. Everyone is always looking for the secret for being healthy, but ultimately, when it comes to your gut, it’s simply eating more of what is considered healthy, and less of what is not healthy.
Think fruit and veg, they’re high in antioxidants, so they’re very good for us. Every time we eat fruit and veg it actually kills some of the bad bacteria in our body. It also helps to regulate the levels of bacteria. Sugar and processed foods, meanwhile, feed the bad bacteria. A good way to think about your gut is to think of it as your second brain. Your gut is responsible for producing serotonin, the chemicals that help you feel good, so by looking after it you’re actually controlling your own happiness. The amount of communication between your brain and your gut is unfathomable. If you eat a good meal full of healthy ingredients you know how that makes you feel. You feel satiated, but you feel good because your gut is telling your brain that it’s good as well. This all feeds through your nervous system, which itself has its own brain. If you were to lay out your gut, it would cover a whole tennis court, that’s how big it is. It’s so complex. Your body contains millions of microbes and most of these are beneficial. Then most dense microbe population is in your gut, and they play a crucial role in digestion, immune function and weight regulation. So, what you eat can quickly change your microbes.
We know that a lot of inflammation comes from your gut, and that can lead to things such as arthritis, cholesterol… it will cause a lot of diseases. Studies have associated microbes with a lower incidence of cancer, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes, asthma, depression, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, colic, Parkinson’s and many allergies. However, much more research is required to be certain of their role in keeping us healthy. As well as eating good foods, there are things you can do to help your gut.
One popular product these days is the probiotic, which supposedly puts more good bacteria in your body. There are prebiotics too. These are fine but like anything, too much of something will be counterproductive. They have their benefits and they try and balance out the levels of bacteria in your gut. In total, we have about 4lbs worth of bacteria in our gut and that bacteria are controlling so much of what is going on inside you. There are 100 billion bacteria to every gram of intestinal content, and these bacteria can influence our behaviour via the 100 million neurons in our gut. That’s why it’s so important to protect it. Probiotics can be really good for when you’ve had an episode such as diarrhoea, or a tummy upset. However, we must be careful. Sometimes it’s not about putting more bacteria in our bodies but simply killing the bad stuff.
Other things you can include in your diet are sauerkraut, yoghurt, onions, garlic, oil of oregano… by including these in your diet, it’s a holistic way of looking after your body and they can encourage more microbes to grow. Also include a wide range of plant-based foods and eat more fibre. Avoid highly processed foods, which can suppress good bacteria or increase the bad bacteria. Choose extra-virgin olive oil over other fats.