Why Eating More Plant Fiber Could Benefit Your Gut Health
According to the ancient world, vital parts of our soul reside inside the gut and other vital organs. Ancient Greek and Roman theories may not have been strictly true, but our guts are certainly home to billions of fungi and bacteria.
The thought, at first, may not seem as pleasant or poetic. But this concoction of microorganisms plays a fundamental role in maintaining the well-being of our gut and our entire body. In fact, a healthy gut can have an array of mental and physical benefits.
Here, Westfield Health examines the importance of gut health while highlighting possible signs of diseased intestines and foods that could help restore their well-being.
Why is gut health important?
By “gut health” we tend to refer to the overall well-being of our gut and digestive system. It can sometimes be easy to forget, but the digestive system is arguably the most crucial system in the body.
It is responsible for the absorption of all the different nutrients that the organs and systems need to function properly. Not only that, but it also takes care of the rejects and wastes, making sure they find their way out of the body.
The gut also feeds the body and can help protect it from unwanted “invaders”.
Research has shown that there is a strong connection between the bacteria in our intestines (in the colon, in particular) and our immune system.
Gut bacteria are able to teach the immune system to spot and recognize benign and harmful microorganisms. This is particularly helpful, as it means our immune system won’t flare up if it encounters harmless microbes. Instead, it will identify the real “threats” and intervene accordingly.
A healthy gut can also have a positive effect on our mood and mental well-being. In fact, the gut produces about 90% of our body’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter that impacts our social behavior, mood, appetite, and sleep.
A well-nourished gut can do wonders for our overall well-being; if everything is working as it should in the intestines and throughout the digestive system, we are more likely to be in a good mood.
Signs of an unhealthy gut
As mentioned, a healthy gut and its microorganisms effectively perform a myriad of positive functions. It is therefore not surprising that if – for example – there is an imbalance in the intestinal bacteria, the overall health could be negatively affected.
But how do you recognize the signs of an unhealthy gut? Here are some symptoms to watch out for:
Stomach ache – A stomach ache can sometimes be the result of poor digestion. In fact, an imbalanced gut has a harder time assimilating nutrients and eliminating waste. From bloating and heartburn to diarrhea and constipation, there are many signs that can indicate an unhealthy gut.
Digestion problems – If you suffer from specific food intolerances, you will find it difficult to digest certain products. This could be caused by the poor quality of bacteria inside the gut. Food intolerances can trigger unpleasant effects, such as nausea and abdominal pain.
Loss of sleep – As explained, a significant percentage of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut. In addition to having an impact on our mood, this hormone can also regulate and promote feelings of drowsiness. An unhealthy gut can struggle to generate serotonin, which can eventually contribute to conditions like poor sleep or insomnia. In the long term, limited sleep can also lead to persistent fatigue.
Migraines – Research suggests there is a link between gut health and severe headaches. People who suffer from frequent migraines are also more likely to have gastrointestinal problems.
Skin irritation – From acne and psoriasis to eczema and rashes, skin conditions and irritation can mask poor gut health. Eczema, for example, can be the result of an inflamed bowel. Food allergies or a poor diet can cause certain proteins to “leak” into the body, which can then irritate and affect the well-being of our skin.
How to feed your gut
There’s no denying that the symptoms of an imbalanced gut can be quite unpleasant. If you suffer from constant pain and various side effects, be sure to consult your GP. In rare cases, the problems may require surgery. To avoid long NHS waiting times, you might want to consider investing in a private healthcare plan, but be aware that most policies won’t cover pre-existing conditions.
There are also other simple steps you can take to restore the health of your digestive system. One way to help your sick gut bacteria is to eat the right foods. So what should be added to the menu?
Fiber – Good gut bacteria love plant-based foods and fiber. Whether it’s fruits, vegetables, whole grains or nuts, an abundant fiber intake will feed your bacteria and keep your gut healthy. A diet low in fiber can increase bloating and gas.
Extra virgin olive oil – Choosing extra virgin olive oil over other fats will massively support your gut health. In fact, extra virgin olive oil contains a high amount of microbe-friendly polyphenols, which are good for your gut.
probiotic food – Probiotics are found naturally in the gut and have a range of digestive benefits, such as helping irritable bowel syndrome. Live yogurts (there are many dairy-free versions available) are an excellent source of probiotics and can actively encourage the development of more good gut bacteria.
Avoid processed foods – Highly processed foods should be avoided as much as possible. These often feature ingredients that increase “bad” microorganisms while suppressing “good” bacteria.
From keeping the body energized to improving our mood, a healthy gut can have a number of benefits for our well-being. We hope this article gives you some insight into how to feed your good bacteria and spot any potential signs of an imbalanced gut.