New research has found that exercise benefits our health by increasing bacterial diversity. Trillions of bacteria live in our body, most of which like to hang out in our intestines. Together, they are known as our gut microbiota or gut flora and can have a huge impact on our health. What’s interesting is that we are in control. Our experts are here to help improve your digestion by getting the right ‘friendly bacteria’ and other steps to optimise your gut health…
1. Prebiotics to the probiotics
‘For gut flora diversity, eat artichokes, avocados, leafy greens, garlic, onions, potato skins, apples, beans, fish, chicken & whole grains. These probiotic foods include indigestible fibrous compounds that feed the Microbiome, allowing digestive and immune promoting beneficial organisms to multiply. These high fibre foods are prebiotics to the probiotics of the gut flora which fuel and encourage its growth,” explains nutritionist Alix Woods.
2. Gut bacteria imbalances
As well as aiding digestion, having a healthy gut microbiome is thought to help teach the immune system the difference between friend and foe. They also help to keep the gut wall healthy, which may aid in preventing immune reactions by ensuring only the right substances are absorbed into the bloodstream. So, when we don’t have enough of the right gut bacteria, our immune system may not behave as it should. Lots of factors in our modern environment can disrupt our microbiome, including stress and lack of sleep.
Top tip: Studies have shown that CBD oil can help with both stress and sleep. “CBD oil has a stabilising effect on mood as it works on the Endocannabinoid System, (ECS). The ECS is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in physiological processes like sleep, pain perception, memory, mood, digestion, cognition and immunity. For its mood enhancing effects it indirectly stimulates the 5-HT1A serotonin, ‘happy hormone’ cannabinoid receptors and exerts an anti-anxiety, happy mood effect. The cannabinoid receptors targeted are the same receptors that anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications target but of course, without the side effects”. When it comes to sleep, “CBD oil helps improve the quality and stops the overthinking that may occur in the early hours of the morning,” explains Nutritionist Alix woods.
3. Chew properly, and don’t rush
As well as trying to create the perfect gut flora there are simple everyday things we could be doing to improve our digestion. “It almost sounds too obvious, but not chewing properly can be a major cause of symptoms such as bloating and abdominal pain. Chewing is meant to break down our food into small particles, creating the maximum surface area for the digestive juices and enzymes to process it. If you don’t chew properly, the rest of the digestive process cannot take place as it should,” explains nutritionist Cassandra Barns.
4. Don’t overeat
“Overeating taxes the digestive system, which simply cannot produce enough of the right substances (acid in the stomach, and enzymes throughout the digestive tract) to cope with the volume of food. Eat until you are just satisfied – not stuffed,” advises Cassandra.
5. Cut the grazing
Too much grazing (frequent snacking) between meals can cause even more of a problem than overeating. “Although eating ‘little and often’ can be beneficial – and skipping meals is not advised – eating too frequently can be taxing on the digestive system, which doesn’t get a chance to digest one set of food before the next one hits. Unless your doctor has advised otherwise, try sticking to three meals a day with a maximum of one snack in the gap between meals if needed,” adds Cassandra.
6. Don’t overdo fluid intake with meals
Cassandra explains “It’s important to drink plenty of water (around 8 cups) throughout the day for good digestion as well as overall health. But make sure to drink most of your water away from meals to prevent over-diluting your digestive juices. In particular, avoid drinking very cold or iced water with a meal. Try instead sipping on warm water with lemon or a warm herbal tea: ginger tea in particular may be helpful for stimulating digestion.”
7. Limit your fruit intake, and try eating fruit away from meals
“Fruit can be good for our health in lots of ways. But sticking to two or three portions a day may be best; get the remainder of your 5-a-day from vegetables. And try eating fruit away from meals rather than after a meal to see if it makes a difference,” advises Cassandra.
8. Fibre – you need to be aware of the good and bad
Fibre can be a double-edged sword for those with digestive problems. Cassandra explains, “a lack of fibre can contribute to constipation. But too much fibre may not be helpful for those with bloating, flatulence or abdominal pain, especially insoluble fibre such as that found in wheat bran, seeds and nuts and the tough parts of vegetables and fruits such as their skins. If you eat grains, choose the ‘gentler’ ones such as brown rice and oats. Peel or gently cook vegetables and fruits rather than eating them raw. Soaking nuts and seeds in water for 8 to 12 hours can help them to be more easily digested.”
9. Up your ginger intake
Stomach acid also plays a key role in digestion; it is responsible for breaking down proteins as well as killing harmful bacteria from foods. For an extra boost, “ginger can stimulate the production of stomach acid and digestive juices,” explains Cassandra.