Navigating the world of health and nutrition is a tricky one: Fat is good? Fat is bad? Sugar will kill you? Should I try the ketogenic diet? Plant-based is the way forward, right? Should I count my macros? It’s understandable that you’re confused. Even health professionals can’t agree on basic concepts of nutrition, such as… the ratio of carbohydrates to protein to fat that we should be consuming each day. It’s almost comparable to psychologists arguing about whether thinking happens in our brains or in our bums.
There are some things we do know, however. One of them is that gut health matters.
What Does a Healthy Gut Look Like?
A healthy gut is one that has the right balance of the good type of bacteria along with the right pH balance. A healthy gut means you absorb nutrients more effectively. A healthy gut means your digestive system, metabolism and immune system can function optimally.
On the other hand, if your gut bacteria and pH balance are off, you won’t absorb nutrients as well, so your digestion and metabolism won’t function as well. It also increases your chances of metabolic syndrome, heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Further, you can end up with inflammatory bowel disease, as serious as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis.
Five Signs Your Gut Health Is Off
- Trouble losing weight: Those with bad gut health often have trouble losing weight because they’re not absorbing nutrients properly and their metabolism isn’t working as fast as it could be. Further, those who are obese have a higher chance of having the bacteria firmicutes in their body. This bacteria is really good at taking calories out of complex carbohydrates and depositing them as fat, making you gain weight. What this essentially means is that gut bacteria can effectively change the way our body stores fat, as well as how we balance glucose levels and respond to hormones that let us know when we’re hungry and when we’re full.
- Low mood and energy: More and more, science is showing a link between the brain and the gut. If you’re suffering from mental fatigue or even anxiety or depression, fixing your gut might be a great place to start.
- Poo problems: I’ll spare you the description here, but check out this article if you’re curious about digging into what healthy poo should look like.
- Immune system troubles: If you’re always getting sick, it could be your digestive system isn’t working as well as it should be, which puts pressure on your immune system. Too much bad bacteria, fungus or yeast can also leave your immune system working overtime, causing you to catch more colds and flus than you would like.
- Dry skin: Dry skin can be a sign of gastrointestinal issues, like constipation, acid reflux and bloating. Further, skin conditions like dermatitis and acne can also be aggravated by bad gut health. In fact, more than 50 per cent of people with acne suffer from small intestine bacteria overgrowth.
Okay, enough about bad gut health. Let’s talk about how to fix it. One great place to start is with diet.
Five Foods to Eat to Fix Your Gut
1. High-fibre foods: From flaxseed to almonds
There’s good reason to believe fibre is good for the gut. This 2017 study discovered a close link between fibre and a heathy gut microbe.
Basically, healthy bacteria feeds and grows in the presence of fibre, meaning our guts will grow more and more of the good bacteria we’re after when we consume enough fibre. It also lowers inflammation – another component of a healthy gut.
Nuts and seeds are a great source of fibre. Some of the best ones include flaxseed, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds and almonds. Here’s a complete list of nuts and seeds and their fibre content.
2. Zinc: From sesame seeds to cashews
If you have a zinc deficiency, you probably have digestion problems, as zinc is needed for stomach acid production. Without it, your nutrients won’t get absorbed into your body properly, nor will your immune system function well.
Some foods that are high in zinc include red meat, shellfish, eggs and nuts and seeds. Three tablespoons of hemp seeds, for example, have 31 per cent for men and 43 per cent for women of the recommended daily zinc intake. Other good sources of zinc are pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.
As for nuts, cashews are the big winner here. Twenty-eight grams of cashews have approximately 15 per cent of our daily zinc requirement.
You have probably heard that nuts are super healthy because they have healthy fats and are low in carbohydrates. Beyond this, they’re also healthy for your gut. Walnuts specifically have been shown to protect against inflammatory bowel disease, as this research suggests.
This 2019 study also found that a diet including various nuts (as well as fish and legumes) is linked to gut health, and this 2018 research suggests walnuts specifically lead to a healthier microbiome.
4. Apple cider vinegar: In a salad topped with pumpkin seeds
Acetic acid, found in apple cider vinegar, is known to stimulate stomach acid production. This helps you absorb nutrients more effectively.
Am I supposed to chug vinegar?
While you could, a great way to use apple cider vinegar is in a salad dressing. Mix it with olive oil, some lemon juice, a little maple syrup and salt and pepper, and you have a pretty tasty dressing.
Toss it on your spinach salad, and top the salad with high-fibre foods, like avocado, a handful of blueberries, pumpkin seeds and walnuts.
5. Fermented foods: Yogurt topped with hemp seeds
Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, yogurt and kombucha, help digestion and keep pathogens away, ultimately helping to restore your gut bacteria, as well as improve nutrient absorption.
Try this for breakfast: plain yogurt, topped with high-fibre berries, a handful of hemp seeds, a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds and a spoonful of toasted almonds.
~ Written by Emily Beers