July 19, 2024
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August 2023 Nutrition

5 Steps to a Healthy Gut

Words: Lisa Winn

A healthy gut is the foundation of overall well-being. It plays a vital role in digestion, nutrient absorption, and even influences our mood and immune system. So, how do you make sure that your gut is the best it can be, and what decides this?

In this article, we will explore five essential steps to achieve and maintain a healthy gut. By incorporating these steps into your daily routine, you can enhance your digestive health and experience improved vitality and wellness that keeps you able to do the things you love.

Step 1: Eat a Balanced and Fibre-Rich Diet

The food we consume has a direct impact on our gut health. A balanced diet consisting of whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, is crucial for maintaining a healthy gut. It’s recommended to get your ‘magic 30’; getting 30 different fruits, veggies, seeds, nuts and plants like herbs in a week has massive health benefits and is easier than you think. Add nuts and seeds to salads and stir-fries, try different types of rice, vary your snacks, choose crudités according to the season or add olives and nuts for a mid-morning nibble; get creative! It’s also essential to ensure that you get an adequate amount of dietary fibre incorporated into your diet, too. Fibre acts as fuel for the beneficial bacteria in our gut, promoting their growth and diversity. Include fibre-rich foods like legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains in your meals to support a healthy gut microbiome. Along with providing essential nutrients, a balanced and fibrerich diet helps regulate bowel movements and prevents constipation. Furthermore, high-fibre foods often require more chewing, which stimulates saliva production and promotes the release of digestive enzymes, aiding the breakdown of food and nutrient absorption. Remember to gradually increase your fibre intake to allow your body to adjust and minimise any potential digestive discomfort.

Step 2: Stay Hydrated and Limit Sugary Drinks

Proper hydration is key to maintaining a healthy gut. Drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day helps in assisting the production of digestive enzymes and nutrient absorption; aim for 6 – 8 cups of fluid. When your body is dehydrated, it can lead to poor digestion and constipation. Hydration is particularly crucial for fibre to do its job effectively and keep the digestive process smooth. However, be mindful of your beverage choices. Sugary drinks, including soda and fruit juice, can disrupt the balance of bacteria in your gut and promote the growth of harmful bacteria. These beverages often contain high levels of added sugars, which not only hinder the absorption of nutrients but also contribute to inflammation in the gut. If you’re not a big water drinker, try herbal teas and natural fruit-infused water to stay hydrated while supporting a healthy gut. These choices not only provide hydration but also contribute to the overall nutrient intake necessary for gut health.

Step 3: Manage Stress Levels

Stress can significantly impact our gut health. The gut and the brain are closely connected through the gutbrain axis, and stress can disrupt this connection, leading to digestive issues. When you’re under stress, your body releases stress hormones that can affect the movement and contractions of the digestive tract, leading to symptoms such as stomachaches, bloating, and altered bowel habits. Incorporating stress management techniques like yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, and regular physical activity can help reduce stress levels and support a healthy gut. Engaging in these practices promotes relaxation, calms the nervous system, and improves digestion. Regular exercise, such as yoga or brisk walks, can help stimulate the muscles in your intestines, promoting regular bowel movements. Prioritise selfcare and find activities that help you relax and unwind, promoting overall well-being, including gut health. Remember, taking care of your mental and emotional health is crucial for a healthy gut. A simple yoga routine that takes no more than 15 minutes can be an excellent way to incorporate mindfulness and gentle movement into your routine. Start by finding a quiet and comfortable space where you can practise without distractions. Begin with a few minutes of deep breathing, inhaling deeply through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth, allowing your body to relax and your mind to focus. Then, move into a series of gentle stretches and poses, such as cat-cow, downward-facing dog, child’s pose, and seated forward fold. Flow through each movement mindfully, paying attention to your body’s sensations and breathing deeply. Conclude your practice with a few minutes of relaxation in savasana, lying flat on your back, allowing your body and mind to fully unwind. This simple 15-minute yoga routine can help release tension, improve flexibility, and bring a sense of calm and clarity to your day.

Step 4: Include Fermented Foods in Your Diet

Fermented foods are rich in probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that promote a healthy gut. Including fermented foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha in your diet can help replenish and diversify the gut microbiome. Probiotics aid in digestion, strengthen the immune system and reduce inflammation in the gut. They help maintain the balance between good and bad bacteria, creating an environment that supports optimal digestion and nutrient absorption. Start by incorporating small amounts of fermented foods into your diet, such as having a serving of yogurt with live cultures as a snack or adding sauerkraut to your salad. As you gradually increase the serving size, you’ll be providing your gut with a steady supply of beneficial bacteria. Additionally, you can explore homemade fermented foods and beverages to further diversify the strains of probiotics you consume.

To get started on making your own kimchi, follow these steps:

  1. Choose Your Fermentation Vessel:
    • Mason jars with tight-fitting lids, fermentation crocks, or specialised fermentation jars are common options.
  2. Pick Your Ingredients:
    1. Vegetables like cabbage, cucumbers, carrots, and radishes are popular choices. You can also experiment with fruits, dairy products like yogurt or kefir, and even beverages like kombucha. For kimchi, I use Charles Dowding’s recipe:
      • 1kg Chinese cabbage
      • 800g carrots
      • 400g winter radish
      • 6 spring onions
      • 8 garlic cloves
      • 1 dessert spoon of ginger
      • 3 dessert spoons of coconut sugar
      • 1 teaspoon of chilli flakes
      • 10g salt
        • One unforgettable rule of kimchi is to never add water!
  3. Prepare the Food:
    • Wash and chop your chosen ingredients into desired sizes and shapes. For vegetable ferments, consider adding salt to draw out moisture and create a brine.
  4. Add Flavourings:
    • Enhance the flavour of your fermented food by adding herbs, spices, or other seasonings. Garlic, ginger, dill, and chillies are popular options for adding depth and complexity to the fermentation.
  5. Pack the Fermentation Vessel:
    • Place your ingredients into your fermentation vessel, ensuring they are tightly packed. Leave enough headspace to accommodate the expansion that occurs during fermentation.
  6. Create an Anaerobic Environment:
    • Ensure an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment for successful fermentation. Consider using fermentation lids or airlocks that allow gases to escape while preventing oxygen from entering.
  7. Fermentation Time and Temperature:
    • Allow the fermentation process to occur at a suitable temperature. Most vegetable ferments thrive between 15°C and 24°C. The duration varies, but start with a few days, and gradually increase if desired.
  8. Taste and Monitor:
    • During fermentation, taste the food periodically to assess its flavour and texture. This helps you gauge the level of fermentation and determine when it reaches your desired taste.
  9. Store and Enjoy:
    • Once your fermented food has reached the desired level of fermentation, transfer it to a clean jar or container and store it in the refrigerator. Fermented foods can be enjoyed as condiments, toppings, or additions to your favourite dishes.

Step 5: Get Sufficient Sleep

Adequate sleep is essential for overall health, including gut health. During sleep, our body repairs and rejuvenates itself, and the digestive system is no exception to this. Poor quality of sleep or lack of sleep can disrupt the balance of gut bacteria and contribute to digestive issues. Lack of sleep has been linked to an increased risk of gastrointestinal disorders, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night to support optimal gut health. Establish a bedtime routine that promotes relaxation, such as reading a book, taking a warm bath, or practising gentle stretching. Create a sleep-friendly environment by keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and quiet. Additionally, avoid large meals and stimulating activities close to bedtime. Prioritise sleep as an integral part of your wellness routine, and you’ll not only benefit your gut but also experience improved energy levels and cognitive function. Nurturing a healthy gut is crucial for overall well-being, and it can be achieved by incorporating simple yet effective lifestyle changes. By following the five steps outlined in this article, including eating a balanced diet, staying hydrated, managing stress levels, including fermented foods, and getting sufficient sleep, you can promote a healthy gut and experience enhanced vitality and wellness. Remember, taking care of your gut is taking care of your entire body.

By health and wellness expert, Lisa Winn, who believes that at the core of feeling good and leading a healthy life is balance. As a mother of three, Lisa knows the common challenge of juggling work and life but says that by focusing on balance, feeling happy and healthy will come.

Find Lisa on Instagram: https:// www.instagram.com/ lisamariewinn/

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