Most of you will have heard the expression “you are what you eat”. These days, experts are saying it’s a little more complex than that. It’s more “you are what you eat, breakdown, digest and absorb.”
Not such a catchy phrase, but the media is really starting to pick up on the benefits of good gut health. It underpins your chances to be successful with any goal, be it fat loss, muscle gain or sports performance.
The gastrointestinal tract (GI) is where food is broken down into simpler chemical forms (nutrients) by specialised enzymes for the digestion and absorption of macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fats) and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals).The GI allows these nutrients and water to enter the body while preventing the entry of toxins. It’s a selective barrier between “us” and the outside world. However, a distressed gut can’t act in our defence. Instead, it allows dangerous compounds to enter the body. It’s estimated that digestive problems account for nearly 10% of all healthcare spending. If you’re serious about your goals you should be serious about your GI health as the list of benefits makes for compelling reading:
Benefits of good GI health include:
• Helps with managing body weight
• Improves immune health
• Improves mood and mental health
• Boosts energy levels
• Improves cholesterol levels
• Regulates hormone levels
• Supports a healthy weight
• Improves oral health
Here are my top tips on promoting the livelihood of the bacteria in our gut:
1. Eat at least seven servings of fruit and veg per day. Vegetables and fruit provide resistant starch and prebiotics as well as phytonutrients that interact with gut bacteria and have an anti-inflammatory effect. Aim to eat all colours of the rainbow across the week. Ideally fresh, however canned and frozen are also very good.
2. Eat fermented foods regularly. Healthy bacteria are found in yoghurt and other fermented foods like sauerkraut, kefir, kombucha and cultured dairy products.
3. Take a prebiotic supplement and/or eat prebiotic foods. A prebiotic differs from a probiotic in that it is a form of fibre that the healthy bacteria in your GI tract can feed on, allowing them to proliferate, which is key for an overall healthy gut. Prebiotics come from high-fibre foods such as bananas, potato starch, oats, raw asparagus, chicory, onion and garlic. Supplementing is especially important for people who don’t eat grains or have a low-carb intake because you are at risk of being deficient in prebiotics.
4. Take resistant starch. Resistant starch is a type of fibre (similar to prebiotics) that is resistant to digestion, feeding the healthy gut bacteria. When gut bacteria feed on resistant starch, they produce a short chain fatty acid called butyrate that is involved in promoting the health of the intestinal cell layer in the gut. Resistant starch is found when starchy foods like potatoes are rice are cooked and then cooled. You can also get it by supplementing with 20 to 30 grams of unmodified potato starch.
5. Chew your food. In our culture it’s normal to scoff our food, but this habit has a harmful effect on your “good” gut bacteria. When large food particles hit your intestines, harmful gut bacteria feed on them, which leads to inflammation and deprives you of the nutrition. Try chewing each bite at least 15 times: You’ll benefit from a greater release of hunger reducing hormones and a healthier microbiome.
6. Avoid Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Drugs or NSAIDs. These restrict blood flow to the kidneys and damage the protective intestinal barrier, which has a negative effect on healthy bacteria. Two natural supplements that promote gut health and have an anti-inflammatory, pain killing effect are curcumin and boswellia. Curcumin is the active compound in turmeric so can be purchased as food, powder or supplement. Boswellia serrata is a supplement that can be found in most good health stores (solgar or viridian are respected brands).
7. Exercise. It’s no surprise that people who train regularly have a more diverse microflora, which is associated with better health. Recent research shows that beyond burning calories, exercise actually encourages the growth of bacteria that is linked to leanness while suppressing other sorts that are associated with obesity.
8. Limit consumption of alcohol, refined sugar and artificial sweeteners, which can kill good bacteria and feed the bad bacteria in our GI tract.
Andy is an Elite trainer at Third Space Soho and specialises in nutrition and hormone balance as well as biomechanics and strength. Andy has over 16 years’ experience as a PT and focuses on getting his clients moving well, training smart, eating right and seeing results.