An Expert’s Guide To Good Gut Health
Healthy gut, healthy mind
Eve Kalinik is one of the soundest voices to listen to when it comes to how to eat, lifestyle habits and behaviours to improve your gut health – key to our overall wellbeing. Here are her 23 cardinal rules.
Chew, Chew, Chew
Take time to chew food thoroughly and remove ALL distractions and devices whilst eating. Instead sit in an environment conducive to optimising the process of digestion and focusing on eating slowly and mindfully. Even this one change in habit can help to alleviate some of the more common gut symptoms such as bloating, gas and reflux as well as helping to tune into hunger cues more appropriately.
Our gut likes to have some routine and in turn will become more regular in its movements. Try to time your meals around a similar time each day. This also creates a nice structure around the day and allows you to have crucial pockets of recovery that support the gut-brain connection. As part of this routine you can begin the day with a shot of Symprove and give your gut a positive start too.
Focus On Positive Nutrition
Aim to turn the focus away from the ubiquitous diets, detoxes and fads that come with the new year. Think about what you can include rather than remove. Unnecessary restrictions of foods or food groups can lead to nutritional deficiencies as well as cultivate a negative relationship with what we eat and how we nourish ourselves physically and mentally.
Practice Daily Mindfulness
The gut-brain connection is one that is incredibly powerful and it is also bi-directional in that the gut can also communicate back to our brain. Including some kind of daily mindfulness can help to strengthen this connection and to alleviate stress that can negatively impact on the gut. Just 5-10 minutes per day can help to support this and it is all about consistency. Think of it like brushing your teeth or exercising to get fitter in that we need to practise regularly to build a stronger and more resilient mind. Simple breathing exercises are great and totally doable to fit into a busy lifestyle. Try to include these as part of a bedtime routine.
Eat The Rainbow
Polyphenols are special plant chemicals and often the same substances that give colour to plants. Crucially these polyphenols also help to feed and support the health of our gut microbiota. Having a colourful plate provides a melody of these polyphenols which helps to create a more diverse, stronger and healthier gut. Some of the highest include berries, broccoli, dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes although they can also be found in less obvious food such as olive oil, herbs and spices, green tea and dark chocolate – yes, a bit of chocolate is good for your gut!
Aim For Diversity
A key ingredient for supporting a healthy and happy gut is having sufficient amounts of dietary fibre. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate that we don’t have the ability to break down but provides a feast for our gut microbiota and is a crucial food source for them. Quantity is one thing but also diversity is super important as this leads to a more heterogenous microbiota. Fibre is found in all plant foods including vegetables, fruit, nuts & seeds and wholegrains. Simple tips to rotate around these could be varying your morning oats with another type of grain like rye, spelt or quinoa flakes, making up a nut and seed mix so you get a few different types in this that you can sprinkle over veggies, salads and soups. And having some frozen berries of different types so that you can mix around these easily and conveniently.
Broaden Your Recipe Repertoire
Try to learn a new veggie based recipe every 2-4 weeks so that by the end of the year you would have built up 21 new dishes brimming with plant-based foods that will bring added diversity of nutrients and fibre that can support your gut AND your tastebuds. There will also be a certain sense of achievement and pleasure that feeds back into nourishing the gut-brain connection. And even though we cannot entertain guests at home perhaps you can share your recipe finds with friends and make them together virtually!
Go With The Flow
Yoga can bring positive benefits for the gut with both the postures and the breathing that can help to alleviate digestive symptoms and support the gut-brain connection. Moreover because yoga works on strengthening the core and postural alignment this can have a further added benefit – slouching does not optimise digestion after all! Check out the myriad classes now available at the click of zoom or app.
Enjoy Fermented Foods
These provide a natural source of beneficial bacteria and form a part of most cuisines. These include ‘live’ natural yogurt, kefir, traditional cheese, miso, tempeh, kombucha, kvass, kimchi and sauerkraut just to name a few. Why not experiment with making and enjoying some of the ones you are not so familiar with?
Move Every Day
Getting some kind of movement into our daily routine has its obvious physical benefits but studies suggest that exercise can have a positive effect on the gut. Aiming for 20-30 minutes every day to get outside and have a walk can also create a moment to reset and relax.
Connect With Nature
And get a bit dirty! Soil exposes us to bacteria that can help to better support a more diverse and enriched gut. Pets can also have a similar enriching effect and also help to support the gut-brain connection.
Prioritise Pillow Time
Lack of and/or poor quality sleep can impact on the health of the gut. Take the hour before bed to switch off devices and wind down the mind. Instead of mindless digital scrolling try immersing yourself in a really great book, or perhaps start a journal to ‘brain dump’ swirling thoughts that might otherwise keep you awake. You could also indulge in a long soak in the bath or listen to some soothing music to help you to drift off blissfully. Interestingly this is a bi-directional relationship in that poor gut health impacts on sleep so it is important to support both aspects.
Give Your Gut Some Love
Self-abdominal massage can help to alleviate symptoms such as gas, bloating and support movement through the gut. Using a massage oil and working in an anti-clockwise motion gently for around 5 minutes can give your gut some hands-on love.
The gut is a thirsty organ after all and it requires regular watering. Most of us need at least two litres per day and a good way to achieve this could be filling a large jug with water and adding ingredients such as fresh lemon, cucumber slices and/or herbs such as mint or rosemary to give it flavour and provide a quota.
Organise both work and life commitments to help better manage stress and feelings of overwhelm or anxiety. The effects of chronic stress can have a significant effect on the health of the gut. It is important to recognise when to say no to people and projects which also makes your ‘yes’ that much more powerful!
Rest & Digest
It is important to give our gut a bit of a break between meals as we have different microbes that help us to absorb our food and those that deal with the ‘clean-up’ operation. Aim for a gap of around 4-5 hours between each meal time and try to have dinner no later than two hours before bedtime. Like our body and mind are tired by the end of the day, so is our gut!
Make Every Meal A Dinner Date
Even if you are dining solo take some time to present your meal that has some care and attention. Present your food with a nice plate and perhaps even a napkin can create a marked shift in the way you eat and engage with your food that has a positive effect on satiety levels as well as optimising digestion and helping to slow and calm the mind. Even the very simplest of meals can be transformed into a multi-sensory experience just by framing it more consciously.
Start The Day With Sunshine
Try to get out first thing in the morning and expose your skin to sunlight. This helps our body to synthesise vitamin D that is important for gut health as well as supporting our natural circadian rhythms and the hormones that govern the sleep-wake cycle which can impact on our gut.
Curb Screen Time
Adopting some screen survival techniques can better manage your relationship digital devices and the effect this has on the gut-brain connection. Useful tips might be saving a drawer or box in which to put phones away at mealtimes and to signal ‘off time’ in the evening. Try dedicating a day, or even half a day per week to leave the phone off or at home. Perhaps even unfollow people and accounts that don’t nourish you mentally and/or emotionally.
Small Act Of Kindness
On a day-to-day basis incites a positive affirmation to oneself and the gut-brain connection. These could be enjoying a piece of your favourite chocolate, taking time to listen to your favourite podcast, getting a nice bunch of flowers or heading to your coffee shop and taking time to sip and savour. These send messages back to yourself that you are worth it that has a nourishing effect on the gut too.
Focus On What You ARE Doing!
We humans have an inherent negative bias and tend to think about what we are not doing rather than celebrating the things we are already achieving so it is important to regular remind yourself of this and the positive steps you have already taken to support yourself and your gut! Gut health is a life-long journey so it is much more about the small consistencies and gains rather than the one-offs. And remember to exert kindness and compassion to yourself and your gut if these changes are taking a bit longer to manifest as we are all different and our gut health journeys will differ too.
While the odd glass of red wine may have some gut benefits too much alcohol can be one of the main triggers for gut related symptoms. Try to sway the balance more to nights off rather than on the booze and stick to a moderate 2 glasses when drinking. Always aim to have with food rather than on an empty stomach. For those nights off enjoy kombucha for extra gut health benefits as well as a delicious non-alcoholic alternative.
The Art of Excreting
Maintaining regularity, as well as satisfaction with our visit to the bathroom has a lot to do with how we poo. Rushing around and not allowing adequate pooping time doesn’t give our gut ample opportunity to perform at its best. We need to give our gut enough time to ‘warm up’ rather than rushing to get it over and done with. Efficiency is one thing but speed is not the aim. We can also tweak our optimum pooping position by slightly leaning forward with a straight spine and taking a moment to relax before beginning. Once done we can enjoy a sense of evacuation euphoria and go about our daily business, now that we have mastered the art of doing the business.
Eve Kalinik is a nutritional therapist, author and consultant. Her book Happy Gut, Happy Mind is out now.
Featured Image: Unsplash
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