Gut Health 101
What is gut health and how to improve it
Author: Pippa Groves
What does gut health actually mean?
You see the term ‘gut health’ everywhere nowadays! But what does it actually mean and why is it so important? Well, the first thing to know is that the gut refers to so much more than simply what is going on in the stomach or intestines!
The gut incorporates the whole of our digestive tract, from our mouth down to our anus, and continuously interacts with all our other organs, tissues and cells. This is mainly down to our gut microbiome; the trillions of microbes that live in our gut producing vitamins, fatty acids and amino acids that offer us impressive health benefits.
If we treat our microbiome properly, we can thrive; but if we neglect it, it can turn against us, compete for our nutrients, and drive negative health symptoms and chronic disease.
Did you know… we’re each half human, half bacteria?
Why is your gut health important?
Your gut affects your whole body, so it’s so important that we prioritise its health. For example, some of the gut’s functions are:
- Digesting food & absorbs nutrients
- Regulating immune function
- Supporting balanced mood & sleep
- Encouraging healthy skin
- Supporting an active metabolism… & so much more!
All these functions are absolutely crucial to our long-term health and longevity and are greatly impacted by the nutrition and lifestyle choices we make every day.
Is your gut healthy?
If you’re thinking, “this all sounds great, but how do I know if my gut is healthy?” here are a some signs of an unhealthy gut:
- Stomach cramps or discomfort
- Acid Reflux
- Food intolerances / allergies
- Brain fog
- Mood swings (stress/anxiety/depression)
- Skin conditions
- Unintentional weight gain/loss
If any of these symptoms resonated with you, perhaps it’s time to prioritise your gut health.
How to restore your gut health
What nutritional habits are good for gut health?
Nutrition plays a pivotal role in maintaining and improving overall gut health, so it is crucial that we feel empowered and educated to follow positive dietary behaviours in the long-term, not just during a January ‘detox’.
Here are some simple, sustainable nutritional tips to help improve and support your gut health.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Whilst everyone’s biology is different, research has unanimously shown that staying hydrated is key to optimal gut health.
Avoid ultra-processed foods
Minimise ultra-processed foods, packed with additives, sugars, unhealthy fats, sweeteners and devoid of nutrients, and focus on a varied whole food diet packed with plant foods, healthy fats and lean proteins.
Count your colours, not your calories
Aim to consume around 30 different plant foods each week. Plant foods include colourful veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, herbs and spices. They contain diverse fibres, prebiotics and polyphenols that our gut microbes feast on to produce beneficial compounds that support not only our gut but our overall health from brain function, immunity, metabolism and so much more. Our gut bugs are as fussy as humans, so this variety ensures we are not neglecting those picky eaters!
Fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, live yoghurt, kombucha and kefir, contain billions of live beneficial microbes that can set up home in your gut and support overall health. Have some at home and add a small portion to your meals to boost gut health.
Try out our simple rainbow kraut recipe.
Did you know… by making these changes to your diet you can improve the composition and function of your gut microbiome in just 48 hours?
When it comes to nutrition, a simple food-first approach is best, as a healthy gut is one that can tolerate and thrive off the variety of nutrient-dense foods we provide it, without relying on a supplement. Supplements may serve a purpose in certain circumstances but do your research and make sure these are backed by science.
What lifestyle habits are good for gut health?
When we think about our gut health, we often overlook our lifestyle habits, but they’re just as important as the food we eat. In fact, chronic stress, poor sleep, lack of movement, medications (including antibiotics), toxic exposure and loneliness have all been evidenced to negatively impact our gut (see the symptoms we listed above) and contribute to disease states.
Rather than worry, we can feel empowered that even the smallest, positive changes can have a huge impact on our gut health. The key is to focus on tiny things that bring you joy and you can see yourself doing for years to come.
Here are some small, healthy habits that’ll help reset and support your gut health:
- Walk in nature every day to reduce stress
- Turn your phone off an hour before bed to improve sleep
- Switch out one chemical-laden beauty product for an organic natural alternative
- Call a friend each week to check in and boost social connection
- Add one extra colourful plant food to each meal to eat the rainbow
- Fast for at least 12 hours overnight to allow your gut the space to rest and repair
Did you know… our gut microbes have their own body clock and circadian rhythm?
By establishing regular bedtimes and wake up times and aiming for 7-8 hours sleep each night, we are promoting a healthy gut environment. Even one night of sleep disruption can negatively impact our microbiome.
If you only remember one thing...
You can’t be in a constant state of stress and build health at the same time, no matter how nourishing your diet is or how many hours you spend at the gym. It’s just not possible with cortisol surging through your body. So ahead of anything else, you need to calm your nervous system and keep cortisol in check!
Can Pilates really help improve gut health?
- It enhances the number and diversity of beneficial bacteria in your gut
- It helps food move more quickly through the digestive system (so you feel less sluggish)
- It helps shift us into a parasympathetic state that lowers cortisol and promotes rest and digest (reducing stress which is a gut wrecker!)
These are our two top Pilates classes for restoring your gut health and aiding your digestion:
When it comes to movement, the key is to establish a consistent practise. Just finding 10 mins to move on your Pilates mat each day will help reduce bloat, increase your energy levels, aid your digestion and release any trapped gas.