Gut health has rightly been talked about a lot over the past year – a healthy gut is the cornerstone of a properly functioning digestive system, clearer skin, higher brain function, improved sleep, stronger hair and nails, and basically everything you need to do well look and feel good.
To make things simple, we’ve created a definitive guide to gut health by interviewing three experts in different fields – acclaimed nutritionist Olga Hamilton; The Club by Rose Ferguson, functional medicine practitioner in Bamford; and Rachel Lopez, the Blok gyms trainer, to share her top tips.
Plus, we share our favorite products for an extra boost to gut health.
How to improve gut health
1. Make sure the foods you eat are varied
Rachel Lopez, Trainer: Thirty plants a week is just one example of a goal to work towards. High-fiber plants with complex carbohydrates are the best for your gut! It’s a lot easier than you think. These plants provide your gut with the fiber and polyphenols it needs to feed all the different microbes in your gut.
When it comes to meal planning, some of my clients have a hard time fulfilling this, so I suggest starting with:
– Authentic Greek yogurt (mixed with some whey protein if possible to boost protein) then add some nuts (e.g. almonds), seeds, chia seeds, blueberries and raspberries as a starting point.
– For lunch and dinner, cooking sweet potatoes, edamame beans, green beans, kidney beans, or broccoli makes a great appetizer alongside a protein source like turkey, chicken, or tuna.
2. Chew your food
Rose Ferguson, Functional Medicine Practitioner: Your digestion begins in your mouth, so take the time to appreciate every bite of what you eat. Chewing gives your digestive enzymes and juices a chance to break down food efficiently.
3. Fight stress by breathing before you eat
Olga Hamilton, nutritionist: When you’re stressed, you don’t digest well because your body produces cortisol, a hormone that primes your body to either fight an enemy or run away, making digestion less of a priority. Cortisol diverts your blood away from your digestive organs and sends it to your muscles so you can fight better or run faster.
To switch your brain from stress mode to rest and digest mode before eating, you can do box breathing to immediately reduce cortisol production. First you breathe in and count to five very slowly. Then you stop, count to five. Then exhale for a count of five. Pause again and without breathing, count to five. You have to take five breaths like this and you will be put into a state of rest and digestion.
4. Minimize processed foods
RL: Chemicals damage your gut. All of the additives and artificial sweeteners in processed foods are chronic stressors on your gut. I see these side effects in my clients through bloating and constipation.
5. Try circadian rhythm fasting
RL: I swear by circadian rhythm fasting, which means that you base your meals on your body’s internal clock. I practice eating within an eight-hour window, but you can also do a 12-hour window. When you see your stomach almost as a food dump, you need to give that soil time to replenish and nourish itself. Allow it to process, digest and then thrive on the food it has been given.
Personally, I eat as late as possible, so some days my first meal of the day doesn’t come until 12 noon. That doesn’t mean I’m eating less, I’m just getting all of my meals in a shorter amount of time. Eating at least two hours before bed improved overall sleep quality. My digestion doesn’t keep me up at night, so by the time I get to my workout the next day, my muscles will have fully recovered and have the rest they need to heal and reduce inflammation.
6. Take some probiotic supplements
HR: I recommend a maintenance cycle of probiotics every six months. There are so many things that negatively affect our gut, including stress, pollution, and pesticides, that helping the gut a few times a year isn’t a bad thing. So complete a regimen of probiotics every six months and eat the fermented foods the rest of the time [see below]that support your unique bacterial colony.
7. Introduce fermented foods
RL: Even a small serving of fermented foods increases the microbiome in your gut. The best examples are kombucha, kimchi, herb, and kefir. My advice is to have these on a regular basis as opposed to a large amount at once. Your gut needs time to adjust for these new probiotics to settle in.
8. Try apple cider vinegar
HR: A dash of apple cider vinegar in some water or a digestive enzyme before a meal can really help your digestion by increasing the digestive juices and enzymes needed to break down carbs, fat and protein.
RL: Exercise is good for your gut. Getting outside is even better, because sunlight and vitamin D improve your health in every way. Try to incorporate mindful walks into your week alongside your strength and resistance training. Prioritize sleep and rest as much as exercise. We want to reduce chronic stress that affects your gut health.
Anything that encourages mindful movement, such as yoga, Pilates or swimming, is also helpful. This type of exercise relieves chronic stress in the body and focuses on the work of breathing — when the brain is quiet, the gut follows.
The best products for a healthy gut
Nue Co.’s Prebiotic + Probiotic
The Nue Co has built a cult following with its innovative wellness products (including functional fragrances, pre-, pro- and post-biotic skincare and natural stress supplements), but its beginnings were as a nutritional supplement brand aimed at combating the effects of irritable bowel syndrome.
The company’s original Prebiotic + Probiotic dietary supplement is still one of its best products because it comes in the form of capsules with 15 billion spores per dose that are taken each morning before meals.
£45, available from cultbeauty.com (opens in new tab)
R’s Koso is a superfood supplement based on a centuries-old traditional fermented beverage made from vegetables, fruits and plants. R’s Edition is fermented for over a year and is made from a blend of more than 100 vegetables, fruits, plants, seaweed and fungi. It is a natural, plant-based probiotic that is also rich in prebiotics and fiber.
$99 www.rskoso.com (opens in new tab)
Intermittent fasting supplement set by Dr. Barbara Storm
The Intermittent Fasting Supplement Set by Dr. Barbara Sturm was developed in collaboration with functional health practitioner and author Dr. Will Cole is designed to help your body adjust to an intermittent fasting regime by providing some of the nutrients and minerals you may lose in the process. Start the day with a teaspoon of powdered electrolytes mixed in water to help rehydrate your body (even if you’re not fasting, this is good practice as many of us wake up dehydrated and could use the extra boost of electrolytes).
When you eat your first meal (for many, this is 12 or 1 p.m.), take the omega-3 supplement to boost your metabolism and the vitamin, trace element, and mineral mix to fill in any missing nutrients . Finish off with two magnesium capsules before bed to aid sleep.
£225, drsturm.com (opens in new tab)