Is poor digestion cramping your style? It doesn’t have to be that way. Here are seven ways to improve your digestion naturally.
1. DON’T GO LOW ON CARBS
Our gut contains around 1500 species of bacteria (actually a mixture of bacteria, yeast and fungi called the gut microbiota) and study after study is increasingly showing how important it is for our waistline and health if we maintain a high diversity of bacteria.
To maintain this high diversity, you need to ensure that you include carbohydrates, in the form of wholegrains and fruit and vegetables. Within these types of carbohydrates are types of fibre that are known to have a “pre-biotic” effect. That means they feed the “good” bacteria therefore enriching your gut microbiota.
Current dietary guidelines recommend that we eat about 30g of fibre per day, however most of us are only eating about 19g. Fibre is an underrated nutrient, yet it is a Holy Grail nutrient. If you can increase the amount you eat, it will not only benefit how your gut functions (improving symptoms such as bloating, cramps and constipation), but also have a positive impact on your waistline, your heart and pretty much every organ in your body.
- Increase the amount of fibre in your diet gradually, to give your body time to adjust to it
- Opt for wholegrain carbohydrates wherever possible
2. DON’T ALWAYS EAT THE SAME THINGS
Are you a routine kinda person when it comes to food? If it’s a yes, then the chances are that the diversity of your diet is low.
In fact, studies have shown that if you are having less than 10 plant based foods (nuts, wholegrains, legumes, fruit and vegetables) every week, your gut microbial diversity isn’t very strong. You need to eat as wide a range of plant-based foods as possible.
Recent research suggests that you need to aim to eat at least 30 different plant-based foods each week. So, if you regularly eat wild rice, try another ancient grain like spelt, farro, quinoa or buckwheat with your next meal. Better still, buy a mixed grain. The same goes for cans of beans. If you always add a can of chickpeas to your weekly shop – try swapping it for a 4-bean mix instead. Switch your regular pasta for lentil, bean or wholewheat versions of pasta. Buy in season fruit and veg too, which means you won’t always be eating the same type of fruit.
- Aim for 30 different types of plant based foods per week
- Each week switch in a new type of vegetable, fruit, nut, seed and wholegrain
3. CUT OUT ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
Although diet versions of foods may help reduce your calorie intake, evidence from animal studies shows they may destroy the diversity of your gut microbiome.
Whether you are better off having natural sugar instead of artificial sweeteners will depend on a number of things, such as your medical history and your weight. However, this research implies that if you want to indulge in something with sugar. In which case you may be better off going for the version with the sugar in it.
However, this is not a green flag to eat your way through a bag of sweets! Like anything, it’s all about balance.
- Read your labels and see which products you are consuming that has artificial sweeteners.
4. INCREASE YOUR FERMENTED FOODS
The process of fermentation involved bacteria and yeast, so it makes sense that increasing your intake of fermented foods has a positive impact on your gut microbiome.
Fermented foods could provide health benefits beyond basic nutrition. Scientists are still investigating exactly how they affect our bodies and health. Some studies have linked the intake of fermented foods to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and better gut health.
Kefir is one of the fermented foods that has the most research behind it. It has around 20 different types of bacteria and yeast in it, making it a great addition to your diet. A range of other foods such as bio-live yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh and sourdough bread are also believed to be beneficial to the gut.
If you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome then be aware that many fermented foods are also high in FODMAPS, which means they can trigger gut symptoms.
- Aim to include at least one fermented food in your diet each day
- Always opt for bio-live yogurt, as this will contain live bacteria cultures
5. WORK UP A SWEAT
The more you move, the happier your gut bacteria are.
This is particularly true when it comes to cardio work. When comparing the microbiome of professional athletes to normal sedentary people, the results always show that athletes microbiomes are far more diverse. In a number of other animal studies, the results also show that exercise induces positive changes in the gut microbiota that are different to the effects induced by your diet.
The good bacteria that seem to flourish with exercise are the Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium and B. coccoides–E. rectale group. However as with everything it’s about moderation. Don’t over exercise, as too much exercise can be detrimental to your gut.
- Have you done your 10,000 steps today?
6. SLEEP ON IT
Good quality, refreshing sleep is good for your gut.
More and more research is showing that the better we sleep, the more flourishing our gut microbiome and vice versa. The sleep-gut link is complex, however a recent study shows that after two nights of sleep deprivation there were significant decreases in the types of beneficial bacteria.
Other research has shown that poor sleep may also raise the risk of experiencing gastro-intestinal issues like IBS. A recent study found that when prebiotics (fibre-containing foods that feed your microbiome) were given to sleep deprived and stressed rats, it helped them restore a normal sleep pattern and get more good quality REM sleep.
If you have had stress-related sleep disruption then load up on probiotic substances like garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, mushrooms bananas and blueberries
7. CHILL OUT
When you stress out your body releases stress hormones, which in turn cause your immune system to release inflammatory cytokines.
These cytokines send inflammation messages to all parts of your body, including you gut bacteria. Over a long period of time this has a negative effect as it increases the leakiness of your gut and also causes an unbalanced microbiome.
Learning to chill out is key to keeping your microbiome balanced and diverse. And if you are already experiencing gut health issues, it will help to heal your gut.
Carve in a little chill out you-time every day
References available on request.