As we explained in a previous post, the term ‘gut health’ has become increasingly popular among the general population. Gut health involves the proper digestion and absorption of food, the absence of gastrointestinal illness and a balanced gut microbiota, coupled with a strengthened gut barrier, an effective immune status and a balanced state of well-being.
But how you can identify if your gut health is in trouble? And most importantly, which science-backed methods can help you restore your digestive health?
We interviewed gut health dietitians Andrea Hardy, Paula Crespo, Kate Scarlata, Megan Rossi and Mariana Camarena on how to identify that something in your gut is not working as it should and the best ways to maintain a healthy gut.
Which intestinal complaints prompt an individual to ask you for advice?
Andrea Hardy: Typically, the most common complaints I see are constipation, diarrhea, bloating and abdominal pain. Many times, patients have had all structural disorders (colorectal cancer, IBD, celiac) ruled out and aren’t sure where to go from there, so they come to see a dietitian to help manage the symptoms of their functional gut disorder.
Paula Crespo: Mainly chronic upset stomachs, and symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and heartburn, which do not improve after several medical treatments and severe food restrictions. Patients also come because of a sense of general upset not associated with any specific foods. They feel bad after eating but can’t identify a specific food or drink that is making them feel like that.
How do diet and lifestyle help maintain or restore gut health and overall gastrointestinal well-being?
Megan Rossi: Unlike your genetic make-up, over which you have no control, you have the ability to shape your gut microbiota simply by how you treat it. Think diet, sleep, stress and exercise: they have all been shown to independently affect your gut microbiota.
Paula Crespo: Diet and lifestyle are crucial for restoring gut health and should be treated at the same time.
- Base your diet on a wide variety of foods. Include fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, legumes, resistant starch, whole grains, and fermented foods such as natural and sugar-free yogurt in your diet every day.
- Remove high-sugar and processed food, such as sugary drinks and products with high amounts of refined sugars (pastries, biscuits, cereals, etc.), from your diet.
- Reduce consumption of red meats and cold cuts, and increase plant-based protein sources.
- Practice sports in accordance with your condition, but get active!
- If possible, reduce the factors you have identified as a cause of stress. If you do not know how to do this, look for professional help, call on a professional such as a meditation teacher for example.
Mariana Camarena: Nutrition is one of the main tools every healthcare professional should use to treat a condition. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Every time you eat or drink something, you are feeding or fighting a disease. That is my premise.
“Diet and lifestyle are crucial for restoring gut health and should be treated at the same time” Paula Crespo
Our gut health is modulated by many factors, among which the gut microbiota comes first. The gut microbiota produces certain molecules that can be good or bad for health, depending on the type of microbiota. We now know that all macronutrients play a major role in shaping the composition and activity of the gut microbiota, and that short- or long-term changes in diet influence the microbiota profile. A diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes promotes a healthy microbiota, while a diet rich in sugars, saturated fats and animal proteins promotes an unhealthy microbiota.
Genetics and certain lifestyle factors such as exercise, non-smoking, geography and others have been studied as factors in maintaining or restoring gut health. The recommendations are that we have to lower stress levels, quit smoking and exercise more, as all this correlates with good gut health.
On the whole, the main criteria for a healthy gastrointestinal system not only involves what happens in your gut, but also that your gut barrier functions effectively, and your immune system. The following tips can help you on your way to maintaining gut health and general well-being (through a balanced gut microbiota and keeping the gastrointestinal barrier intact):
|· Follow a balanced diet high in vegetable and fiber content with moderate consumption of red meat.
· Avoid systematically sticking to popular restrictive diets: focus on what you can add to your diet rather than what you can take away. When in doubt, ask your dietitian.
· Stay active!
· Make sure you get quality sleep
· Avoid any type of chronic stress.
· Probiotics in synbiotic combinations with prebiotics work: combining yogurt and fruits has health benefits based on their probiotic and prebiotic properties.
· Stay hydrated.
Note: original answers may be edited for style and length.