For a long time I’ve believed in ‘you are what you eat’ but it wasn’t until I read the book Clean Gut by Dr Junger that the importance of gut health all became clear to me. We often think of our gut being in our belly, but it actually starts at our mouths and ends at our butt. Everything you eat and drink is processed by the gut. Let me say that again, everything you eat and drink is processed by the gut. Its job is to absorb nutrients from our food and protect us against harmful bacteria and toxic substances. What happens in your gut affects the rest of your body.
I am no scientist nor am I a doctor so I am not going to go into the science of our guts. My aim today is to make you aware of gut health so that you no longer have to suffer in silence. For a long time I suffered from bloating without realising the cause or that it was my body’s way of telling me it my gut health was compromised. What you eat can have a big impact on your gut health and improve or even eliminate many issues and illnesses we don’t often associate with gut health.
What’s in our gut?
Our gut contains 100 trillion microorganisms, made up of friendly bacteria, viruses and funguses. This is called the gut flora and it works to digest our food, fight off bad bacteria, helps to strengthen our immune system and produces vitamins and minerals. Ever wondered why you seem to pick up every cold going whilst your friend doesn’t even seem to sneeze? The difference could be your gut health. A large part of our immune system calls our gut home and so poor gut health can mean a weak immune system.
The gut is seriously sophisticated, it has it’s own brain. I’m not kidding. This is where the sayings ‘Listen to your gut’ and ‘Gut instinct’ come from. I’m sure none of us would willingly want to damage our brains, yet so many of us are unaware of the ‘second brain’ in our guts and the damage we could be causing it. If you eat healthy, nutrient-dense foods then those nutrients will be absorbed by your gut and transported to your cells to give you glowing skin, healthy hair and strong nails. If you eat nutrient-void or harmful foods then it could lead a number of problems. Poor digestive health is quite common and an unhappy gut can be the cause of nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea, bloating and wind, to name just a few. Research has linked an unhealthy gut to a wide range of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, chronic fatigue syndrome and depression.
What affects the gut?
The food we eat, intolerances antibiotics, probiotics, smoking and a lack of exposure to bacteria can impact our gut health in a good or bad way. Our gut absorbs nutrients and minerals from our food into our blood stream which transports them to our cells to be used in different functions, like creating new cells. Food intolerances also have a huge impact on our gut health. For a long time I didn’t realise that dairy was causing my bloating until I took a food intolerance test and cut out dairy and my bloating almost disappeared. I say almost, because I have struggled to cut it out completely for a long period of time (Hello chocolate, mmmmm) which I need to do to rid myself of dairy-related bloating. I’m working on it folks, but I’m happy to at least now understand the correlation between my bloating, my gut health and the food I eat.
In Dr Junger’s book Clean Gut, he talks about common irritants to the gut such as dairy, alcohol and antibiotics and he links poor gut health to things like eczema and obesity. I promise this isn’t a sponsored post, nor was it supposed to be a book review, I just seriously love that book and I always recommend it to any of my friends who so much as mention anything remotely gut related.
How to improve your gut health
Keep a food diary – It’s so important to be aware of what you’re putting into your body and how you feel afterwards. Log your food for a week or longer and note down how you feel afterwards. Did your morning smoothie make you feel alert? Great! Did the pizza for dinner make you feel sluggish or bloated? Not so great.
Keep a note of your bowel movements – Wait, God no, I am not talking about putting your poo in a tupperware and inspecting it à la Gillian Mckeith! I just mean make a note of if you were regular on Tuesday, constipated on Thurs or full on diarrhoea on Sunday. If you vomit or feel nauseous, make a note of that too. Windy? Note it down!
Be aware of your symptoms – The reason I say keep a food diary, note your symptoms and your bowel movements is so that you can start to understand the relation between what you eat and how you feel. Like I said, I’ve realised dairy makes me bloated, but I’ve also realised cheese is my worst offender but I can tolerate Greek yogurt. Interesting, right? I learned all that by noting stuff down and being aware of my symptoms. It may seem tedious, or even embarrassing to write down your bowel movements at first, but trust me, you’ll be thankful in the long term!
Eliminate food intolerances – Once you understand which foods lead to bad symptoms you should cut them out for around a month. Dr Junger’s book actually has a 21 day plan where you eliminate trigger foods such as dairy, alcohol and sugar, then reintroduce them one by one over a week to see which ones your body reacts to. Then once you know your trigger foods he guides you on cutting them out over a longer period to improve your gut health and get it back to functioning correctly.
Boost your friendly gut bacteria – Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut and kefir which feed your friendly bacteria. Take a good quality probiotic and/or prebiotic supplement.
Essentially, the way to boost your gut health is to remove the foods that are causing harm to your gut, allow time for your gut to repair and restore your gut flora with pro/prebiotics.
There is so much more to gut health than what I have covered here, but I hope this gets you thinking about your symptoms and whether your gut health could be a factor. If I haven’t made it obvious already, I really recommended reading Clean Gut. Like I said, this isn’t a sponsored post, I have nothing to do with Dr Junger or the book, I just really like the way it is written and how it explains everything in a clear, easy to understand way. Plus he’s a Doctor so he explains things in more detail than I ever could. If the intro to the book is a bit long for your liking, just skip the part where he talks about how he came to be interested in gut health. I really enjoyed that bit, but it does go on a bit.
What do you think about gut health? I’d love to know if there’s anything you’ve learned or know about it. Or if there’s anything you’ve done to improve your gut health? Do you believe in ‘You are what you eat’? Do you have any questions? I’d love to make this a discussion so please get involved and comment below!