A growing body of research is showing that a happy gut makes for a healthy body and, just as importantly, a healthy brain.
Imbalances in the gut have been linked to anxiety, depression and mood disorders, and it’s now believed that an unhealthy gut may be the cause of these problemes, rather than the other way around. Jay Pasricha, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology, says research suggests digestive-system activity may affect cognitive function, thinking skills and memory, too.
So how do we eat for a happy gut?
Firstly, it’s crucial to eat plenty of soluble fibre to keep everything moving – fibre, which comes from fruit, vegetables and wholegrains, is like a broom that sweeps out the gastro-intestinal tract.
The Gastroenterological Society of Australia says, “Fibre encourages passage of material through the digestive system and gives the correct consistency and bulk to stools. Ideally you should consume at least 30 grams of fibre per day. A balanced diet that is rich in fibre may reduce the risk of developing diverticular disease, heart disease, or colorectal cancer.”
The second thing you need to do is avoid irritants and, at the moment, there is quite a lot of information swirling around that makes it difficult to know what this means. Is sugar to be avoided at all costs? What about gluten and dairy?
The key here is understanding your own body and how much it can tolerate before you start to experience symptoms of imbalance, which can include gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhoea.
If we look at gluten, for example, on the one hand, wholegrains such as wholemeal bread and pasta, are an excellent source of soluble fibre but many people simply can’t tolerate them. The key is to keep grains to a minimum – if you have oats for breakfast, for example, choose chicken and salad for lunch.
Other things that definitely irritate the gut and cause inflammation are smoking, alcohol, soft drinks and too much refined sugar and carbohydrates.
When you’re eating plenty of fibre and avoiding irritants, the final step to keeping your gut happy is to include healthy bacteria in your diet. Known as prebiotics and probiotics, these “good” bacteria overwhelm the “bad” and ensure everything is running smoothly. Fermented foods, including yoghurt are the best sources of probiotics, you can also get supplements from the pharmacy.
If you are experiencing symptoms such as abdominal pain, blood in your stools or sudden weight loss, be sure to speak with your doctor.
Here is a selection of foods that will keep you gastrointestinal tract balanced and functioning how it should.
Do you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome or another gut issue? What do you find are the worst triggers? And which foods sooth your guts?