6 tips for a happier, healthier gut
For many of us, feeling bloated after a meal is a pesky problem that we’ve shrugged off as just the way our body works. Whether we’ve consumed something salty, a meal containing dairy, a lunch with lots of veg or simply our morning coffee, the post-munch bloat is just something we’ve come to think is normal. However, the reality is that bloating is a sign that your digestion could be out of whack and more importantly, it’s a sign that your gut is not working the way it should. While you may have read all the typical bloating tips (don’t drink from a straw, chew more slowly), what you may not be aware of is that the delicate balance of bacteria in your gut (or gut microbiota) directly influences your digestion, and an imbalance in this bacteria could be the reason your tummy is feeling crummy. Dr David Perlmutter is the #1 bestselling author of Brain Maker, exploring the gut-brain connection, and shares his top tips to overhaul your gut and banish bloating for good.
#1 It’s all about prebiotics
Probiotics are all the rage right now- and for good reason. But how much do you know about prebiotics? Taking a probiotic without a prebiotic is kind of like planting a tree into very, very poor quality soil. A prebiotic is designed to create this health environment, or ‘soil’, to allow your healthy bacteria to flourish. Without it, the healthy bacteria in your probiotic supplement can’t flourish and won’t remain in your gut if you cease taking the supplement. It’s easy to add prebiotics to your diet – look for raw garlic (think hummus), raw leek (you can toss it through a salad) and even cooked onion. They’re all prebiotic rich foods and they’re pretty delicious too.
#2 Probiotics are about quantity
Probiotics are essential for good gut health, and if you find yourself feeling bloated and experiencing abdominal discomfort, there is a chance that your gut bacteria is out of balance. The most important thing to keep in mind is that when it comes to probiotics, the key is quantity. Incorporate probiotics into your day as much as possible, in as many forms as possible, with as many strains as possible. This means trying to consume probiotics with every meal, and not just relying on a supplement. Look to include a probiotic rich food with every meal like yoghurt, kimchi, sour dough bread, miso, tempeh or sauerkraut as well as a probiotic supplement if you’re in serious need of a gut overhaul. On top of this, make sure you look for a multi-strain probiotic supplement- the more strains the better, in many cases. This means you’ll be getting many different types of bacteria, that all perform different functions, from providing immunity to helping with digestion and extracting nutrients from food.
#3 Reconsider gluten
With the abundance of gluten-free foods and diets out there, it’s easy to dismiss going gluten free as a fad. However, if you’re on a mission to beat bloating and to fix your gut once and for all, it could be time to start taking this tip a little more seriously. Gluten is incredibly inflammatory, and research is now showing that gluten can cause gut inflammation in a huge amount of individuals, not just those with coeliac disease. This inflammation can very easily cause a permeable or ‘leaky’ gut, causing digestive discomfort, bloating and serious health complaints.
#4 Stress less
It’s not just about what you eat, but how you live your life. Chronic stress can be a direct trigger of digestive issues (even ‘simple’ ones like bloating), as researchers are now recognising what is called the parasympathetic nervous system, or ‘second brain’ in the gut, closely linking the balance of our gut bacteria with our mood. There has also been evidence that the microbiota in our gut can directly respond to stress signals- which could explain that ‘gut wrenching’ feeling or butterflies you get when you’re nervous. Excessive stress can be just as detrimental to our body as our gut, and for this reason, if you’re serious beating your tummy troubles and fixing your gut, you need to get to the root of your stress issues.
#5 Say Goodbye To Sugars
By now, most of us are aware that excess sugars in the diet cause more harm than good. And while it’s not realistic or recommended to go entirely sugar free and rid healthy foods such as fruit from your diet, it is definitely worth monitoring your sugar intake. Research has shown that increased consumption of sugar (more than the recommended 6-10 tsp per day) has been implicated in many gastrointestinal disorders, including IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), symptoms of which include bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. This is linked to the fact that sugars actually hamper the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut, and encourage the growth of harmful bacteria such as candida. You don’t need to necessarily eat like a saint- just be mindful of your sugar consumption and aim to keep it below 6 tsp per day.
#6 Make your carbs complex, and don’t go overboard
To be clear, ‘cutting carbs’ is not recommended- it’s also practically impossible, considering that many vegetables are considered complex carbohydrates. However, too many refined carbohydrates in the diet can also be detrimental to your gut health. Essentially, a diet too low in complex carbohydrates (read: few starchy vegetables and low fibre) actually lowers the diversity of bacteria in your gut. A gut lacking in diverse bacteria has difficulty digesting food, extracting nutrients from food and fortifying your immunity. However, a diet too rich in refined carbohydrates also inhibits the growth of good bacteria and encourages the growth of harmful bacteria (seeing a pattern, yet?). It’s best to aim for a comfortable middle ground, with a third of your diet consisting of complex carbohydrates, from plants as much as is possible (think sweet potatoes, pumpkin and squash).