7th June 2018 by Jess
What if we really are what we eat? Our nutritionist Jess explains how even the best diet in the world is nothing without the ability to absorb it properly.
Optimal gut health has become a prominent focus in 21st century health. The old saying “we are what we eat” doesn’t quite hold true; instead, it should read, “we are what we digest”. If you have the best diet in the world yet can’t absorb it or can absorb only a fraction, you’re only going to reap a small percentage of its goodness.
The gut, also known as the gastrointestinal tract, is the long tube that starts at the mouth and ends at the back passage. Altogether, your gut is a huge chemical factory that helps to digest and process food, produce vitamins, regulate hormones, excrete toxins, produce healing compounds and keep your body healthy.
The surface area of your small intestine, where food is absorbed, is about the size of a tennis court. It also houses about 60% of your immune system.
It's important to have a healthy functioning gut as every single nutrient that is processed and assimilated in the gut, then goes on to serve a specific function in the body.
From our immune system, to our sleep quality, through to our skin health and ability to concentrate and have good memory, these functions all need nutrients, and that comes from our food, which is processed and filtered in our gut.
Healthy digestion, absorption, and assimilation of food is a big job that depends on many other factors. For example, the bugs in your gut are like a rain forest – a diverse and interdependent ecosystem. They must be in balance for you to be healthy.
Too many of the wrong ones (like parasites, yeasts or bad bacteria) or not enough of the good ones (like Lactobacillus or Bifidobacteria), can lead to serious damage to your health.
When we have poor gut health and improper gut function with too many bad critters hanging out compared to healthy bacteria, health problems can arise such as obesity, diabetes, allergies, skin issues, sugar cravings, weight imbalances, autoimmunity, depression, mood swings, cancer, heart disease, fibromyalgia, eczema, and asthma.
These sup-optimal health issues are our body’s way of communicating that it needs some focus and TLC in one way or another.
Having a healthy gut becomes central to your entire health and connected to everything that happens in your body, that’s why I almost always start treating my nutrition clients’ chronic health problems by fixing their gut first.
Optimal gut balance begins with your diet, which directly affects that balance. You want to eat a diet with lots of fibre, healthy protein, and healthy fats.
Good fats, including omega 3 fats and monounsaturated fats – such as extra-virgin olive oil, avocados or almonds – improve healthy gut flora, while too many inflammatory fats, like vegetable oils, promote growth of bad bugs that cause weight gain and other health issues issues. Balancing these two fats is key to a healthy gut.
Lack of sleep and chronic stress also contribute to gut imbalance. In fact, your gut flora listens to and becomes influenced by your thoughts and feelings. So be sure to get 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep and remember to practice your favourite stress reduction activities daily.
The best way to grow a healthy inner garden and make your gut bugs happy begins with your diet. Here are 7 ways to build healthy gut flora starting with your next mouthful:
These recommendations are not miracle cures. They are the actions that lead to normalised gut function and flora through better diet choices, increased fibre intake, the use of nutrients that repair the gut lining, and the reduction of bad bugs in the gut with herbs or medication.
Prebiotics are foods that ‘fertilise’ our existing gut bacteria and encourage the development of a diverse community of microbes. These foods are complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and wholegrains.
Probiotics are foods, or food supplements, that contain live bacteria thought to be beneficial to us. This includes live yoghurt, some cheeses and fermented foods.
There are 2 different types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Both are important for health, digestion, and preventing diseases.
Soluble fibre attracts water and turns to gel during digestion. This slows digestion. Soluble fibre is found in oat bran, barley, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, peas, and some fruits and vegetables. Some types of soluble fibre may help lower risk of heart disease.
Insoluble fibre is found in foods such as wheat bran, vegetables, and whole grains. It adds bulk to the stool and appears to help food pass more quickly through the stomach and intestines.
The Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), who looked at the role of fibre in maintaining good health, published these new recommendations in July 2015:
By Jess, graze nutritionist.
Our nutritionist extraordinaire, Jess trained at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and is a registered practitioner with the British Association for Applied Nutrition & Nutritional Therapy. She's the creator of our health badges, to help you choose the snacks and boxes that are right for you. Check out everything from Jess on our blog, with recipes and tricks to help you keep making better choices, or go to her website at jessntom.com for even more.
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