Your gut can affect your fat storage, the way you age, immunity, food cravings and emotional wellbeing. It can also play serious havoc with your skin; so it’s no wonder experts are glad gut health is finally getting the attention it deserves.
Digestion has always been one of those things you rarely think about – until there’s a problem. But this year that’s all set to change. A raft of new books are firmly putting the spotlight on how poor digestive health can cause major health issues and leave us feeling overweight, exhausted, spotty and stressed.
‘For years people haven’t realised the role that our gut plays in everything from our skin to disease and depression,’ says nutritionist Vicki Edgson, author of Gut Gastronomy (Jaqui Small). ‘Many experts have known this for a long time and eventually the message is getting out that until you overhaul your digestive health, nothing else you do health-wise will make a difference.’
Alejandro Junger, Gwyneth Paltrow and Demi Moore’s New York based doctor and author of Clean Gut (Harper Collins) told us: ‘All of today’s most diagnosed ailments can be traced back to an injured and irritated gut. The gut is an intricate and powerful system naturally designed to protect and heal the body every moment of every day. And yet for far too many of us this remarkable system is in disrepair, which leads to all kinds of problems.’
Your Good Gut Rules
Clean out the junk
‘One of the first things you need to do is a basic clean of your diet,’ says Dr Pedre, a New York based physician and author of Happy Gut (Harper Collins, out July 2015). ‘That means cutting out processed foods and sugar, reducing alcohol and caffeine, and keep an eye on wheat, gluten and dairy. They can be inflammatory to some, so try to reduce them and see how your gut responds. If you feel energised and experience less digestive symptoms like bloating and feeling uncomfortably full after food, then think about cutting them out altogether.’
Eat fermented foods
Fermented foods are set to become huge. And with good reason. ‘Eating fermented foods regularly is integral to sustaining healthy gut bacteria,’ says Vicki Edgson. ‘Because of the way they break down foods they introduce beneficial bacteria into the gut. You don’t need to eat a lot – just small amounts every day.’ Try Kefir, a fermented milk drink that can be found in the yoghurt aisle of health foods stores. Or Miso paste, like Itsu Miso Soups that come in a paste and can be eaten as a soup or added to salad dressings (all major supermarkets). Or sauerkraut, which is fermented cabbage and can be bought in Polish or German supermarkets. Kombucha Tea is also fermented and available in major supermarkets. Or do a Miranda Kerr and have a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar (also fermented) in a glass of boiled but cooled down water every morning.
Have healthy fats and good quality protein
‘Fats are nourishing and have anti-inflammatory properties and good quality proteins are easy for the body to break down,’ says Vicki. ‘Pick organic, grass fed meat because it’s less likely to contain antibiotics that can harm micro-organisms in the gut.’
Pick organic fruit and vegetables
‘The same goes for organic fruit and vegetables,’ adds Vicki. ‘They won’t be sprayed with gut-harming sprays and pesticides.’
‘Blanch vegetables for salads as this makes it easier for the gut to extract the nutrients,’ says Vicki. ‘Drop salad ingredients into boiling water for 30 seconds, then into cold water.’
According to Vicki this will help heal your gut in several ways. ‘Pay attention to what you’re buying – make it fresh, organic, grass-fed and steer clear of processed foods that are full of gut-harming additives or sugar. Set aside time to eat and focus on it, rather than quickly eating while doing other jobs. Stop and listen to your stomach – it will tell you when it’s had enough. All this sounds obvious but so many of us mindlessly buy food and eat it too quickly, which can harm the digestive system.’
Watch your carbs
There’s a reason why we reach for comforting carbs like mashed potato and slices of toast when we’re stressed or sad, according to Dr Pedre. ‘We have serotonin (the feel good hormone) receptors in the gut and carbs are the quickest ways to feed these,’ he says. ‘However, you must choose your carbs wisely.’ He recommends staying away from sugar and refined carbs like cereals, biscuits, white pasta and bread and baked foods as they’re damaging to the gut lining and feed bad bacteria in the gut. Instead stick to slow release, gut-friendly carbs like vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
The gut/mind connection
‘The mind gut connection is incredibly strong,’ says Dr Pedre. ‘This is why we feel butterflies in our stomach when we’re nervous, get a knot when we’re anxious and go off food – or have digestive problems – when we’re stressed. And we know IBS is linked to our mood. I���ve overhauled a patient’s diet and seen fantastic results but if they have a lot of stress in their life their gut health will always be compromised because the gut is so intrinsically linked to the mind. I’ve even seen recent studies that show stress can interfere with the bacteria in the gut. And ironically, when we’re stressed we turn to sugar, alcohol and all those foods we’ve discussed that are damaging to the gut. You need a two-pronged approach – heal your gut and your stress levels will subside. And try to reduce stress in your life and your gut health will improve.’
6 gut-boosting supplements
Symprove - a multi-strain water based supplement loved, adored and highly recommended by the Grazia Beauty Team. Our tip off, opt for the mango and passionfruit flavour, over the original, and expect a flatter tum. (£79 for a four week supply, www.shop.symprove.com)
Wild Nutrition Total Cleanse Complex - swallow three capsules daily of this vitamin, mineral, amino acid and herb concoction, brilliant for cleansing the liver and kidneys as well as the gut (£35 for 90 capsules, www.wildnutrition.com)
Wild Nutrition Food-State Multi-Strain Biotic - a high strength powder formula that should be mixed with a glass of water, and taken daily, also available in children’s form. (£35 for 100g powder)
L-Glutamine – Dr Junger recommends taking this amino acid to help rebuild gut lining (his client Gwyneth swears by it). It also reduces sugar cravings which benefit gut health.
Culturelle Probiotic with Lactobacillus - this dairy and gluten free supplement taken daily will noticeably support your immune system (£29.16 for 30 capsules, www.nutri-link.co.uk).
OptiBac Probiotics 'For daily immunity' - suitable for vegans, this once a day supplement contains antioxidants, like pink bark extract, to build the body’s resilience to infection. (£11.49 for 30 capsules, www.dolphinfitness.co.uk
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