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What is gut health? Why is it important and how can you improve it?

When we think of digestion, we often associate the process with our stomachs and a quick trip to the bathroom. But what’s often overlooked is the role of our gut in the digestive process. Our “gut microbiome” is essentially the 300-500 different species of bacteria that live in our digestive tracts. Although that may sound frightening, a healthy gut possesses more beneficial bacteria which actually help make the digestion and absorption process much smoother and efficient. 


What is gut health?

So what exactly is gut health? To answer that question we first need to understand what the gut is. The simple answer is that the gut is the major organ that our bodies use to digest and absorb nutrients. In addition to that vital function, it’s also the largest immunological organ in the body making it really important for fighting off infections. 

gut health image from shape magazine importance of eating fermented foods for better gut health


What is the importance of maintaining good gut health?


A healthier gut will cause better digestion and allow the body to utilise the nutrients from food more efficiently. With that being said, an unhealthy gut can increase the risk of developing infectious and inflammatory GI diseases. Within the science community, it is well known that the gut microbiome is very important to our overall health and acts as a shield against diseases and the overall maintenance of gut function! Now you may be wondering how the gut actually protects us from so many diseases. First, a healthy gut helps to keep our intestinal barrier intact, which is just as crucial as our microbiome. Any damage to that barrier can lead to many pathological diseases which shows how important the overall function of our guts are! When everything is running smoothly, the gut not only contributes to our digestive health, but our overall health by running our immune system, but also preventing tissue injury throughout our body’s! It’s incredible what our gut is responsible for and it really doesn’t get much credit for being the backbone of our overall health. This is why it is so important to figure out where you are in terms of your gut health and what foods to eat in order to upgrade your overall health. 


Symptoms of an Unhealthy Gut 

Just like the gut influences many parts of the body, it’s also influenced by many factors. From our diets to our stress levels and exercise habits, many things that we do fluctuate the health of our gut and it’s microbiome. So here are 4 signs that your gut may not be in the best shape:

1. A sugary diet: It comes to no surprise that a diet high in sugar has negative implications on our health. Unfortunately, when constantly consumed, sugar has the capability of reducing the amount of good bacteria in our gut, allowing the bad bacteria to take over and cause inflammation in our bodies. This has negative impacts on our digestion as well as our immunological response while also contributing to more sugar cravings causing us to damage the gut even further. 

sugary diet

2. Poor sleep quality: There is a direct link between the gut and brain health since serotonin, the chemical responsible for sleep quality and mood is predominantly made in the gut! Thus, poor gut health may cause disruptions in the production of this hormone causing considerably poorer sleep quality and sometimes insomnia making us feel constantly sluggish and tired. 

3. Irritated skin: As mentioned, the gut has a profound impact on the health of our entire body including our skin. When the gut is damaged, a common symptom is inflammation which irritates the skin and has even been linked to conditions such as eczema.

4. Chronic digestion issues: Lastly, the most obvious sign of a damaged gut is any persistent digestive issues or chronic abdominal pain. Diseases like Crohn’s, Ulcerative Colitis or even food sensitivities all point towards a weakened gut or an imbalance in the gut microbiome which can onset other symptoms like inflammation, pain or nausea. 


What foods are important for gut health?

Consuming foods such as red meats, alcohol, processed foods and excessive sugar all lead to a decline in our gut health. And since we have already touched on the implications of a weakened gut, here are 4 types of foods that you should incorporate into your diet in order to improve your gut and overall health!

1. Fermented Foods: such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut are a great source of probiotics which contain good bacteria that your body needs to thrive. As an added bonus, many fermented foods are high in vitamins and are packed with flavour so this could also help spice up your future meals. 

2. Vegetables: There’s a reason why our parents constantly encouraged us to eat more vegetables as kids! You can’t go wrong with adding more vegetables to your plate and that comes in handy when trying to restore your gut health too. In order to best target your gut, dark leafy greens  like spinach and kale are excellent due to their high fiber content which helps the foods in our digestive systems move along quicker. 

3. Whole grains: Like vegetables, whole grains are high in fibre and non-digestible carbs which promotes more efficient movement of food through our digestive systems. To add, these foods have also been linked to the promotion of the growth of good bacteria in our guts, making them that much more beneficial to our health.  

4. Polyphenols: Not only should you eat foods that increase the amount of good bacteria in your gut, but once they are present, they need fuel to keep doing their jobs. Foods like raspberries, green tea, apples, onion, artichoke and dark chocolate all contain compounds called polyphenols which feed the good bacteria in your gut!

The bottom line is, sticking to fermented foods, vegetables and whole grains should get you on the right track to improving both your gut and overall health. It’s important that we become proactive with our health and develop a preventative mindset which can start with changes to our diets. So, next time you head out to get your groceries, try adding some of these gut-improving foods to your list!