How a Plant-Based Diet Can Improve Gut Health
Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
And while this may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. It’s not just the more obvious problems such as heartburn, constipation, diarrhoea, IBS, IBD, etc, but all kinds of issues like allergies, pain, mood disorders and nutrient deficiencies.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It's here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients and toxins through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body. We're just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain. If you’ve ever felt butterflies in your stomach when you’ve been excited then you’ll know this to be true. Also to consider is the friendly resident microbes too, which have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health.
So, first I’ll talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. Then I'll give you tips to improve your gut health naturally with plant foods.
Our gut’s role in our overall health
Our gut’s main role is as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want to pass right through and out.
This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can go wrong…
For one thing, our guts can "leak." Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things such as bacteria, undigested food and toxins to get into our bloodstream and wreak havoc. You name it, whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it's not supposed to. And when your gut wall gets irritated, it can "leak." When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don't seem linked to the gut, but have a sneaky connection there.
DID YOU KNOW? About 70% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.
Leaky gut is also known as increased intestinal permeability. It’s worth noting the word increased. There is a normal level of permeability, the barrier isn’t meant to be completely impenetrable it’s when the gut lining has large cracks or holes in it that it can become a problem.
So what is causing people to develop leaky gut?
Some of us are just more sensitive to changes in our digestive system or we may have a genetic disposition. It would also appear that the standard Western lifestyle could be the main driver of gut inflammation. A diet which is low in fibre, high in sugar and saturated fat, plus high consumption of alcohol along with high levels of stress, could all be a factor.
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY GUT BARRIER IS THE FIRST PILLAR OF GUT HEALTH
The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation and stabilising blood sugar.
KEEPING YOUR GUT MICROBES HAPPY IS THE SECOND PILLAR OF GUT HEALTH!
How to improve gut health
There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with what to stop. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts a lot of rubbish to deal with. How about eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol? Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.
****If you’re keen to cut down on processed foods, feel less bloated and lose a few pounds why not give my FREE plant-based 5 day plan a try? In addition to the recipes and a shopping list I’ll be in touch every day by email with info and top tips. You’ll also get lots of support in my Facebook group. Sign up here.****
You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. The good news is that if you go plant-based you’ll be eliminating one product which contains common compounds known to irritate people’s guts and that’s dairy. There are many plant milk alternatives now so just try a few to find your favourite.
Many people also find their gut health improves by removing gluten. There are lots of grain-type alternatives that don’t contain gluten so it’s worth trying a few of these, such as millet, quinoa, buckwheat (although wheat is in the name it doesn’t contain any gluten) and teff.
By eating nutrient-dense plant foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into our gut to maximise the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens and colourful fruits and veggies.
The second pillar of gut health is our microbes.
Lack of fibre is thought to contribute to leaky gut and guess what – fibre is only present in plants! Feed the good bacteria already living in your gut with plants – fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds and whole grains if you can tolerate them. They’re all full of gut-friendly fibre. Not eating enough fibre increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fibre plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of the bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fibre also helps to feed our friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better.
By eating fresh fruit, vegetables and pulses you will also be consuming foods rich in resistant starch, which helps your gut bacteria to flourish.
With fresh produce you’re getting pre- and probiotics, all in one, but you might also want to consider adding in fermented foods like kombucha, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi.
And don’t forget important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.
The function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes.
The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole plant foods. Foods filled with nutrition, prebiotics, probiotics and fibre. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods and alcohol.
****Don’t forget – you can sign up to my FREE plant-based 5 day plan here.****