Many people think that the gut is something to do with the intestines or maybe even the stomach, but dietitian Rachel Jeffery tells us that the gut process begins the moment we put something in our mouth – digestion starts with mastication, the mixture of chewing and saliva, and this is where a healthy gut life starts.
The journey from point A to point B (appetite to butt) has many stops along the way and the latest nutritional information tells us that there needs to be a combination of 30 different plant foods eaten a week to keep our gut healthy.
Unlike blood or DNA, there is not necessarily any relationship between families when it comes to your gut microbiome (biological community). Environmental factors including hygiene habits, pets, lifestyle, and even the difference between swimming in the ocean, a creek, or the backyard pool, can have very varying effects and create a particular habitat for the gut microbiome in individuals.
Rachel Jeffery is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian and a specialist in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Endometriosis, Fertility, Pregnancy and Women’s Health.
She says that in terms of good gut health, it’s not just about eating.
‘It’s eating – including plenty of fluids, exercise, stress management, and sleep. It’s important to eat well and it’s important to keep up your fluids. Stress management has a lot to answer for in gut health and we all know how important exercise is for all aspects of good health.
‘In terms of eating, what we know is the more different types of food you eat, the better. Try to get 30 different plant products in a week. When each of the foods is digested in the gut, they help feed different microorganisms – the microbiome. A variety of plant foods helps feed different microbiomes. To keep it healthy it’s best to have a large variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grain cereals, even including things like herbs, spices, and so forth.’
Bad gut health can affect other parts of the body. Rachel says there’s a thing called the gut-brain axis (GBA).
‘There’s a highway of communication, between the brain and the gut. The best way to explain that is: if you’re asleep at night and you get that 3am phone call, you can feel your “tummy”, your gut, starting to churn, or if you’re going for an important interview, you can feel that churning – there’s a sort of a conversation-communication highway between the two.
‘We don’t know if the brain affects the gut or the other way around, but we all know, that if you feel bad in your tummy you just feel generally crap. This affects your mood and what you want to do for that day. If you’re feeling healthy and you’ve eaten well – if you’ve had a good poop – you’re not feeling the pain of being “blocked up”, you feel good and you get on with your day.
‘Gut health can affect how productive you are. Add to that the sleep component. If you’ve had a really crappy night’s sleep, you wake up late, you don’t eat a good breakfast and you grab a coffee and a doughnut on the way to work – you’ve already started to have a bad day in the sense that they’re not eating the normal good gut foods. That can then have a knock-on effect.
‘You often hear people say, “I was tired after work and I didn’t want to cook so I grabbed a pizza on the way home”. That can actually make you feel worse afterward. Eating poorly can make us feel bad.’
Rachel says that food that doesn’t make us feel good – making us constipated, bloated, or in pain – can affect us as well.
‘There is a potential link between our gut health and our mental health. There is still a lot being looked into. We are learning that gut health may influence a lot of health and lifestyle diseases,’ she said.
‘What we do know is that there may be links to the way how healthy your gut is and other diseases. It’s early days but science is looking at things like inflammatory bowel diseases – Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease. Does our gut health actually affect those diseases? We are still learning more.’
Rachel says if you have symptoms or are worried your first stop is your GP. ‘It’s always good to visit your doctor who can do baseline screening with bloods and a stool test – to make sure you haven’t any bad bugs.’
If you’ve got a happy gut, you are more likely to be a happy person. As Rachel says: ‘Eat good mood food’.