A guide to gut health

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gut health hero

This clinical expert offers simple steps to look after your digestive tract and enjoy better health, in advance of World Digestive Health Day on 29 May

Your expert: a clinical nutritionist and functional medicine practitioner with clinics in London and Kent, Nishtha Patel has a special interest in gut health and inflammatory bowel disease.

Thousands of years ago, Hippocrates stated that “All diseases begin in the gut.” He was not wrong. 

Gut health is important because our immune system, cardiovascular health, mood and sleep are all governed by the state of it. In fact, gut health is so significant that some studies show having optimal digestion may help to prevent many disorders, including some cancers and autoimmune diseases. 

woman drinking milk

There are countless factors that can play a role in ill health. Often, dysbiosis – an imbalance in the types of bacteria and other microscopic organisms that are naturally present in the human body – in the gut can be linked to a range of symptoms including brain fog, anxiety, headaches, fatigue, stomach aches, acid reflux and many others. All this can create a burden on the body, and can affect your mental health too. 

So, how do you go about improving your gut health? There are a few things you can do. Start by gently increasing your fibre intake. Do it slowly, otherwise you can end up with pain and frequent visits to the toilet. The best way to increase fibre is by eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, herbs, pulses and legumes (soak and rinse dried beans and pulses well, and pressure– or slow-cook them to avoid flatulence). 

Eating a balanced and varied diet is key. The Mediterranean diet is well researched and contains varied sources of all the essential nutrients and fibre we need. It’s also rich in protein, which is so important because we lose muscle mass as we age. 

probiotic foods

In addition, try to get some form of probiotic foods in your diet. Again, if you’re not used to them, go slow – perhaps start by taking a teaspoon of kefir, kimchi or sauerkraut. Then as your body gets used to it, increase it gradually. 

It’s also important to be mindful of how you eat as well as what you eat. If possible, try to eat your main meal at lunch time. Then for your evening meal, opt for a lighter dinner such as soup and salad – and don’t eat too close to bedtime. This gives your digestive system time to process the food. Chewing food thoroughly as we age is particularly important, as we start to lose hydrochloric acid, which is needed to break down our food properly. 

Eating mindfully at a table, and salivating before we eat, can also help us digest our food optimally. 

women exercising

One thing we often forget is to stay hydrated. Drinking around two litres of filtered water helps keep our organs and digestive system in check. The brain and gut require water. Just try not to drink liquids with your meals as it can dilute that all-important hydrochloric acid. 

My final tip is remember to move. This is so important for your mental and physical wellbeing. Just walking gently can make a huge difference. If you can’t walk, there are some great chair aerobic videos available on YouTube. Every change you make will help. 

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