Your gut absorbs nutrients from the food you eat and is packed with trillions of microbes like bacteria, fungus and yeast that help (or hinder) the process, known as the microbiome. Keeping your microbes in balance is the key to good health and has been shown to affect weight, well being and fat storage. As we age we are at growing risk of digestion and gut problems, such as acid reflux and absorbing essential nutrients, such as vitamin B12. How effective our digestion is determines our energy level and our physical and mental health. Here are 10 simple tips to keep your microbiome tip top for summer, with autumn sadly just around the corner.
The guts are home to trillions of bacteria that play a vital role in how we break down nutrients and affect the efficiency of our immune system. Probiotic rich foods include Miso soup, pickles, Tempeh, Kimchi, yoghurt, iced kefir and dark chocolate. Including these in your summer diet improves your gut health, aids digestion and the assimilation of nutrients, thus boosting your energy levels and overall feeling of wellbeing. If you don’t like any of these foods then taking a good quality probiotic supplement will help strengthen your gut microbiome. Probiotics contain strains of beneficial “friendly” live bacteria that can shorten an episode of diarrhoea caused by a stomach bug by about a day. They’re usually added to yoghurts. There is some evidence that these “good” bacteria can help reduce flatulence and bloating in people suffering from IBS. If you’ve taken antibiotics in the past a probiotic supplement can help undo the damage caused by them and help re-balance your body. Without probiotics, antibiotics can severely deplete your protective gut bacteria resulting in diarrhoea and ill health.
Eating Prebiotic plants and fruits, such as pineapple, papaya, coconut and aloe juice can help probiotics to work better, by providing them with beneficial fibre, nutrients and acids. Papaya has natural anti-inflammatory and healing properties. Try adding anti-inflammatory Aloe juice to smoothies, or drink it straight to help digestion. Coconut oil is similarly powerfully anti-inflammatory and rich in lauric acid, which is anti-microbial and helps nourish the gut lining. Try snacking on coconut or papaya to keep your gut happy.
Snack on Sauerkraut
Other probiotic-rich foods include sauerkraut, full-fat yoghurt and cottage cheese. Made from fermented cabbage, sauerkraut is loaded with trillions of beneficial gut bacteria and also a good source of vitamins A, B, C and K. Also rich in healthy live cultures, full fat yoghurt contains less lactose and is less irritating to the gut lining than low fat, especially if you are prone to bouts of IBS. Another fermented food, Kombucha, (fermented tea) contains enzymes and acid which will boost your digestive system and gut health.
Sip Green Tea
Green tea is packed with nutrients and anti-oxidants to aid digestion and help protect and nourish the gut lining and fight against degenerative disease. The health-giving properties of green tea are not affected by temperature, whether you serve it hot, or iced, on a hot summer day. In addition to tasting delicious, green tea is packed with health-giving compounds, including polyphenols, flavonoids, chlorophyll, vitamins, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals.
This year’s hot summer’s has ripened blueberries early. Packed with Polyphenols and vitamin C these fruits can improve your microbiome and help keep Alzheimer’s at bay and make your gut feel happy.
Getting out into the late summer sunshine can help boost your vitamin D levels and boost your immune system for the winter months. Around half the population are deficient in vitamin D, which is essential for gut health, cellular growth and repair. If you are stuck in an office with artificial light all day taking a good multi-vitamin with vitamin D will help keep your microbiome in good shape.
Are you dreading returning to your stressful job after the summer holiday? Chronic stress, anxiety and depression all negatively affects your gut health. Meditation has been proved to relieve anxiety and bring stress levels down. Even sitting down for 10 minutes a day is enough to refresh your brain. Doing meditation helped save the life of Kay Longstaff, the air stewardess who fell overboard a cruise ship, sixty miles off the Croatian coast, last week. She then spent a painstaking 10 hours floating, doing meditation and singing “so not to feel the cold in the sea overnight” until she was rescued. She later credited her yoga and meditation training with keeping her fit enough to survive.
Taking smaller bites and chewing your food slowly helps aid digestion, reduces flatulence and makes it easier for our small intestine to absorb more of the nutrients from our food. Bacteria in the large intestine are a major cause of flatulence. Try to chew each bite twenty times before swallowing it and focus on savouring the flavour and texture. This enables your saliva to mix with the food longer and the digestive process and enzymatic breakdown of the food to begin. Slowing down when you are eating can even help you lose weight. Buy natural quality food, rather than junk food which is engineered to taste good quickly, but can seem quite bland when you take time to savour it.
Get more Sleep to lose Weight
Two thirds of adults fail to get the recommended eight hours of sleep a night, which is needed to maintain a flourishing microbiome within your gut. Do you feel hungrier when you are exhausted? This is because poor sleep causes the surge of hormones which make you feel hungry, while suppressing the hormone that makes you feel full. It affects the body’s balance of insulin and circulating glucose. Hence lack of sleep can make you gain weight and encourage you to make unhealthy food choices. Scientists experimenting on mice discovered that creating artificial jet lag in mice leads to weight gain. Lack of sleep also strains your immune system raising your risk of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease, as it negatively affects coronary arteries. Sleeping badly for just one week can disrupt blood sugar levels so badly that you could be classified as pre-diabetic. Sleeping well helps recharge the body’s immune system and help if fight infection, cancers and many illnesses. Sleep also recharges our brains, enabling us to cope with the challenges of work of the next day with a clear head.
Going for a walk after a meal helps digestion. Walking your dog, during the long summer evenings, or stroking your cat are great ways to de-stress and digest.
The Oldie magazines. She also works for the NHS and is the Hippocratic Post's roving reporter.