What does “good gut health” really mean?

What does “good gut health” really mean?

We asked the UK what “good gut health” meant to them. Do you agree?  

 

Most people have experienced an upset stomach before. 

Whether we’ve eaten something a few days past the expiry date or picked up a travel bug while overseas — we all recognise the tell-tale symptoms. In fact, recent figures show that 86% of UK adults experience a digestive concern in any given year, while 10-20% experience these on a weekly or daily basis. The most common symptoms are abdominal pain, diarrhoea, bloating, flatulence, and constipation.

So when we asked the UK what “good gut health” meant to them, it came at no surprise that “satisfying poos” and “no bloating” were at the top of the list. While these are no doubt important, good gut health is so much more than just the absence of symptoms.

 

What good gut health actually means:

  • Regular and well-formed bowel movements (a healthy range is anywhere between 3 per week – 3 per day)
  • Feeling good after eating, with minimal bloating, flatulence, abdominal pain
  • Maintaining low levels of chronic inflammation for those with inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis
  • Not getting sick all the time (good immune function)
  • Having sufficient energy for exercise and physical activity
  • Waking up feeling refreshed and energised
  • Enjoying mental clarity and the ability to focus/concentrate
  • Being in a good mood
  • Not letting the stress and anxieties of daily life overwhelm you
  • Reducing long-term risk of colon cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease 

Many of these benefits are thought to be centred around having a diverse and healthy gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is made up of trillions of bacteria, archaea, and fungi that reside throughout our gastrointestinal tract. The relationship between gut health and microbiome health is bidirectional. That is, when we nourish our gut microbes with a diverse high-fibre diet, the integrity of our intestinal epithelium (gut lining) is strengthened. Conversely, having a healthy gut lining provides the optimal environment for our microbes to perform these beneficial processes for the human body. We wrote a whole post about an important function of gut microbes here. 

Now we’ve established what gut health could mean to you, how do we improve it? Here are our top tips backed by science that are known to improve the health of your gut and microbiome.

 

1. Aim for 30g fibre daily

Consuming a high fibre diet from a wide diversity of plant-based foods is probably the best thing we can do to support gut health. Fibre has an incredible ability to absorb water, and improve the weight (bulk) and consistency of your stool. This means that if you suffer from constipation, regular fibre intake will increase the frequency of bowel movements without needing to strain. If you suffer from diarrhoea, your stool will become well-formed and more solid.

Prebiotics are specific types of fibre that provide food for our gut bacteria, allowing them to perform beneficial functions in the gut. The most important function that our gut bacteria performs is the production of Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs). SCFAs play an important role in digestive function, immunity, metabolism, and mental health. Sources of prebiotic fibre includes onion, garlic, artichokes, chicory root, banana, and oats. For most people, consuming 30g of fibre each day is actually quite difficult – consider taking a fibre supplement (with prebiotics) for a convenient way to meet your requirements.

 

2. Experiment with fermented foods like kefir or sauerkraut

Start by including a small amount of fermented foods every day, including kefir, live yoghurt, artisanal cheeses, and sauerkraut. These foods contain live beneficial bacteria that can help to improve the diversity and number of bacteria that live in your gut.

 

3. Limit highly-processed foods

While no food should be completely restricted, try to minimise your intake of highly-processed foods like pastries, chocolates, biscuits, cakes, and pizza. Foods that are high in unhealthy fats, artificial sweeteners and sugar are associated with a number of health concerns including obesity, colon cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes.

These foods also don’t provide much fibre and nutrients that our gut bacteria rely on to survive. Increased consumption of highly processed foods has been linked to more specific types of bacteria associated with poorer health outcomes. 

 

4. Keep moving

Exercise and physical activity stimulates gastric motility (contraction of gut muscles) which promotes a healthy digestive tract, and helps to avoid constipation. Recent studies suggest that exercise can increase the number and diversity of beneficial gut bacteria, as well as enhancing SCFA production and carbohydrate metabolism.

 

5. Drink plenty of water

Aim to drink roughly 2L per day (depending on the person). Water and fibre intake go hand in hand  - when increasing dietary fibre, it is important to have enough water in our digestive system to reap the benefits.

 

6. High-quality sleep

Recent studies suggest that sleep deprivation can negatively impact the diversity and composition of our gut bacteria. The relationship between sleep and the gut microbiome remains unclear. The negative effects on the gut is currently thought to be mediated by increases in pro-inflammatory markers and stress that result from poor sleep.  

 

Concerned about your gut health?

    It is important to understand your digestive system and monitor any unusual changes. This will allow you to distinguish between minor gut health concerns and more serious symptoms that may require advice from a healthcare professional.