Often known as the ‘second brain’ of our body, the digestive system is thought to be involved in much more than just processing the food we eat. It also has links to our immune systems, our mood, and even the quality of our sleep. Imbalances in the delicate balance of bacteria that reside in the gut are thought to be responsible for all manner of symptoms, ranging from food cravings to nutritional deficiencies, and the resultant side-effects of these shortfalls.
So how can we take steps to rebalance the bacteria in our gut?
Switch up your cooking oils
If you normally reach for the olive oil or sunflower oil when you start cooking, switch to ghee instead. Ghee is a form of clarified butter, which contains butyric acid. Nutritionist Cassandra Barns explains, “Butyrate acts as a fuel for the cells lining the large intestine, helping to keep the gut lining healthy. Butyrate may also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties in the gut. On the other hand, vegetable-cooking oils such as sunflower oil may actually have the opposite effect on the gut, promoting inflammation. I’d use GHEE EASY [£6, Sainsbury] when cooking at high temperatures.”
If you want to use your diet to boost your gut health, Cassandra suggests tucking into fermented foods. “Traditional fermented foods such as kombucha can be a key way to maintain the healthy bacteria in our gut – in fact, some research suggests that they’re much more effective than taking probiotic supplements for this purpose.” Why not try using Equinox Kombucha [RRP £1.80, Waitrose] as a mixer for your favourite summer cocktail! It’s raw, organic and comes in four delicious flavours.
Avoid unnecessary antibiotics
Antibiotics are a highly effective and often life-saving tool in the fight against bacterial infections. However, they can also affect the population of good bacteria in the gut, especially when they are taken over a long period of time. “Lower levels of friendly bacteria may lead to other issues that cause digestive problems, including the wrong acid-alkaline balance in the gut and overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeasts. It can result in poor absorption of nutrients, bloating, cramping and diarrhoea or constipation,” explains Cassandra.
Eat plenty of oats
They may be one of the cheapest foods to help boost gut health, but don’t underestimate these little prebiotic super foods. Cassandra says, “Oats are a form of resistant starch, which unlike most other carbohydrates, passes through and reaches the large intestine. When it gets there it’s fermented by the friendly gut bacteria that live there and encourages their growth, acting as a prebiotic.” Try Nairn’s Fine Milled Oatcakes [RRP £1, Sainsbury’s] topped with banana and nut butter for a perfect (and affordable) prebiotic snack.
Research has found that regular exercise can help to enhance the number of beneficial microbial species and enrich the microflora diversity in your gut. Try adding in half an hour of yoga or a gentle jog to your evening routine for an easy way to increase your exercise levels.