Gut bacteria are an important source of vitamin K and it’s important to have some gut friendly habits to maintain that:

MEALTIMES

One of the biggest things we can control to optimize our gut health is the food we eat and the patterns in which we do this. Adopting a regular meal pattern and making sure you don’t skip meals is one of my top tips to help support a healthy digestive system. This means your digestive system isn’t getting food erratically all the time, which can help stabilize and regulate digestion. Think about it. The same applies to most humans. Most of us like to have a bit of structure in our lives, as it reduces unexpected stress. The same applies to your digestive system.

Another important thing is to take enough time to eat your food, limiting distractions as much as possible. This means cell phones down, computers and TVs off. Sit down, chew your food well and take your time.

10 Gut Friendly Habits & 6 Factors

Mealtime is a very important part of gut friendly habits!

Fibre

Fibre is required for the normal functioning of the gut; bulking out and speeding up our stools, fueling our gut bacteria, and playing an important role in immunity and the digestion of nutrients. Fibre was explained in more depth in the Carbohydrate section of the book. I mentioned that there are two main types of fibre and that a combination of both should be included in our diet: soluble fibre and insoluble fibre. Both are required to optimize our gut health, as well as provide lots of other health benefits too.

Remember, don’t increase your fibre intake all at once. Build it up gradually, and depending on your digestive symptoms, if you feel that you need any further guidance on this, please seek advice from a Dietitian.

Prebiotics And Probiotics

Our gut contains lots of good bacteria which play an important role in our defence against bugs and toxins, as well as in the digestion of nutrients. It’s a common misunderstanding that bacteria are a bad thing but in the case of gut bacteria, they are a good thing. There are so many different types of bacteria found in our gut, and it’s essential for us to encourage a thriving gut microbiome by consuming a healthy diet which provides both prebiotics and probiotics. So what’s the difference?

Prebiotics are non-digestible food ingredients that only our gut bacteria can feed on. Including these in our diet can consequently encourage the good bacteria in our gut to grow. Not only that, but they are also thought to prevent the growth of potentially harmful bacteria in our gut. The main types of prebiotics in our diet come from a type of carbohydrate known as fructo-oligosaccharides. Food sources are plant-based sources of soluble fibre such as onions, garlic, asparagus, leeks, artichokes, wheat, soybean, oats, chicory and bananas. In the UK, we don’t tend to eat large quantities of these foods, so sometimes manufacturers add foods which have prebiotic properties to their food products, such as yoghurt, breakfast cereals and cheese products. It is thought that including prebiotics regularly in the diet can also result in a lot of potential health benefits including, improving the function of the immune system, reducing blood cholesterol levels, helping with mineral absorption, and helping to relieve constipation and the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. However, more evidence is needed to strengthen the evidence associated with these claims.

Probiotics, sometimes referred to as ‘good bacteria’, are live microorganisms which can be found in food products. They are capable of moving through our digestive system and reaching our large intestine (colon) where they are then thought to improve our gut heath by increasing the amount of good bacteria that is already found there. The types of bacteria present in the large intestine can influence our health both positively and negatively, so it is thought that if we are able to increase the levels of ‘good bacteria’,
there will be a more positive influence on our health. Research into probiotics has found some positive effects, suggesting that they may be useful in cases of antibiotic-related diarrhoea, in treating constipation, optimising our immune system and improving some of the symptoms associated with irritable bowel syndrome. Although further research is needed in order to clarify these results, no adverse effects of taking probiotics have been found to date. Although the benefits of probiotics may require further study, their intake is considered as safe. It is worth mentioning here, however, that those who have an impaired immune system may wish to seek specific advice from a doctor or Dietitian prior to taking probiotics. Many probiotic bacterial strains are now added to foods such as dairy products, sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and kombucha. Other pickled ingredients are usually good sources, too. Probiotics are also available as supplements in the form of capsules or sachets.

GUT FRIENDLY FACTORS

Hydration

The importance of staying hydrated was discussed in depth earlier. It has a huge impact on our general health and well-being, but also has a direct impact on our bowel habits.

 

Be sure to drink plenty of fluids every day to meet your requirements, especially water or other non-caffeinated drinks.

Relaxation

Many people don’t relate stress and anxiety to their gut health, but they are strongly connected. The example I often give, which I’m sure many of us can relate to, is the upset stomach we can often experience when we are nervous about something. This can either have an impact on our appetite or make us run to the toilet more often than usual. The gut has its own network of nerves which make up part of our nervous system. Our nervous system takes signals from the brain, which means that psychological factors, such as stress and anxiety, can directly influence the muscle contractions in our gut causing some of the symptoms mentioned previously. This connection between the brain and the gut is known as the Brain–Gut Axis, and its influence on our general health and well-being should not be underestimated. Being good at recognising and managing our stress levels can therefore be really effective in easing symptoms.

So many of us lead very busy, hectic lives and being able to find the time to relax can be something of a struggle. Nevertheless, stress management techniques can be quite simple, it’s sometimes just about recognising when we need to use them. Some of my favourites ways to relieve stress are:

»» Create time for relaxation.

I appreciate that this can be difficult for many of us, but I really can’t emphasise the importance of it. It can be as simple as taking a bath, reading a book or going for a walk.

»» Try relaxation therapies.

At the end of 2016 I was given the opportunity to attend one of the free 8-week Mindfulness courses that was being offered through my NHS work. I’ll admit, I was sceptical about it at first, but it was actually one of the best things I have ever done. I’m someone who overthinks things and worries unnecessarily about things. Attending this course has really helped me manage this. Some of the things I learned were how to be present in the moment (how many of us have brains with too many tabs open at the one time?), how to deal with unpleasant events in our lives, mindful movement and different types of meditation practice. I know many people have their minds made up about whether this would work for them, so did I, but I would honestly encourage anyone who struggles with stress, to find a trial course and try it with an open mind.

»» Take part in regular exercise.

Usually when exercise is suggested as a means of stress management, people imagine having to do tough, gruelling workouts. That’s not the case (though of course it can work for some!). For many it can be as simple as going for a walk, going for a swim, leisurely cycling, or taking part in a yoga class.

There is so much research that has been done on physical activity and the impact it has on our heath, not just on the prevention of disease, but also on mood and stress management.

»» Prioritise your sleep.

It’s scary how many of us don’t get enough sleep every night. I was also once guilty of this, thinking that foregoing sleep would mean having more time to get things done so I could be more productive.

That really couldn’t be further from the truth. Sleep is so important, not only for our overall general health, but it can also play a vital role in stress management. Getting enough sleep means that we not only function better the following day, but we’re far more mentally and physically prepared to deal with any stress that may come our way.

Physical Activity And Exercise

Physical activity was mentioned as being something that can have a positive impact on our stress levels, which in turn can improve our gut heath. However, physical activity and exercise can also play an important role in helping us to achieve and maintain good bowel habits. This is because regular physical activity can help encourage regular bowel movements as it helps to stimulate the intestines to work, leading to easier bowel movements. The exercise does not have to be strenuous either. It can be as simple as walking or doing daily living activities, like housework.