Why might the gut be our ticket to optimum health?
Often referred to as our second brain, it’s the intestinal and digestive tract that determine so much of our health and wellbeing. How we feel, how our body overall is performing, even the state of our immune system; so much can be traced to our insides.
Once-upon-a-time, this was a part of the body we didn’t really want to talk about, did we? All that squishy, stinky stuff going on was a little off-putting. As it turns out, it’s actually where so much goodness resides, and where so much goodness is created. All that squishiness and stinkiness deserves our respect…!
So let’s head to our insides, so to speak, and find out how you can be good to your gut and why you should be.
We are what we eat
A big myth to dispel is that you can address optimum health with one single product or solution.
In aspiring for optimal health, we’re trying to care for our total well-being. The key to the complexity of this task is in the word ‘system’, e.g. digestive ‘system’, immune ‘system’, nervous ‘system’, cardiovascular ‘system’ etc. There is not just one area we can hone in on; it’s an entire network that includes several organs and biological functions. Therefore, there is not just one solution. However, what we eat and our gut’s microbiome is, nonetheless, a particularly important player. In fact, over 80% of our immune system is located within the walls of our intestine, so everything we eat has an impact across our entire physiology.
There is still so much research underway about, but since ancient times (as far back as 2,500 years ago), we’ve somehow known that our stomach and intestinal tract hold the key to so much. In Hippocrate’s words, “all disease begins in the gut” and “let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. So, eating well and having the right gut bacteria all contribute to our well-being.
Why is gut flora so important?
Achieving this ideal microbiome is important for many compelling reasons, for instance:
- Producing enzymes and proteins that defend our bodies against bacteria and toxins
- Regulating our metabolism
- Absorbing the full nutrient potential of the foods we eat
- Maintaining good energy levels
- Enhancing our mood / positivity
- Ensuring optimum functionality of our brain via the gut:brain connection
- Maintaining hormones
Best foods for a healthy gut
OK, here’s the good news. There are just so many immune system-boosting foods to eat. Let’s go shopping for foods to keep the gut healthy!
- Collagen (protein)
The amino acids in collagen, which is a very special form of protein, are essentially the building blocks of our body. They hold us together. Without them, we would literally fall apart! They really are such hard workers and they are essential for the structure and function of our tissues and organs, including the cells that comprise our immune system. In addition, these miracle molecules enable us to grow, heal, repair and renew. So what foods are rich in collagen?
Examples - meat stocks and bone broths, chicken, turkey, eggs, lean beef, tuna, oats, cottage cheese, milk, broccoli, quinoa, chickpeas, lentils, beans, peas.
Not getting all the collagen you need? Find out more about Edible Health’s collagen powder supplements.
- Probiotic-rich foods
You often hear that a great diet for perfect health is to eat like your grandparents, right? Well, it’s sound advice. These are some of the best foods for a healthy gut. All those pickles, relishes, fermentations and preserves not only taste terrific, they’re great for striking the right balance of friendly flora for our insides. We refer to them as probiotics. This means they contain live microorganisms. You might also hear the term live cultures.
Although there are many classes of probiotic, the three most common are Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and Saccharomyces boulardii (from yeast).
Examples - kefir, yoghurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, kombucha, natto, miso, pickles, buttermilk, some cheeses, sourdough starter.
A word of warning, the food production process can kill much of the natural live culture in certain products. Therefore don’t just assume, for example, that every yoghurt on the shelf is going to tick your probiotic box. Read labels to be sure. Also, anyone pregnant or on a diet due to a medical condition should consult their GP before introducing more probiotics to their eating plan.
- Prebiotic fibre
This is the term given to fibre that cannot be digested. Instead, it moves through the small intestine and is fermented when it reaches the large colon, thus feeding our inside’s friendly bacteria.
Examples - banana, apple skin, chicory root, onions, garlic, cashews, pistachios, lentils, kidney beans, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks, asparagus, barley, oats, cocoa, flax seed, wheat bran, seaweed.
Ok, so what are the best vitamins for the immune system?
This is not one single vitamin - it actually encompasses eight, all of which play a role in converting food to energy.
Examples - mushrooms, avocados, broccoli, spinach, kale, eggs, beans, lentils, red meat, chicken, turkey, salmon, oysters, mussels, clams, sunflower seeds, almonds, milk.
How many mothers go out and buy up big on oranges and the like whenever a child catches a cold? Vitamin C may help our body produce white blood cells, which are major fighters against infection. Our bodies don’t actually store this vitamin (remember those school lessons about seafarers and scurvy?) so it’s really important we keep feeding ourselves with the right food to keep levels well-stocked.
Examples - kiwi fruit, sweet potato, broccoli, garlic, ginger, spinach, oranges, clementines, grapefruits, almonds, turmeric, watermelon, papaya, sunflower seeds.
The healer. This is an essential mineral that helps to maintain the immune system by metabolising the nutrients we consume and growing and repairing our body tissue.
Examples - red meat, shellfish, legumes, chocolate, hemp seeds, cashews, dairy, eggs, wholegrain, dark chocolate.
Oxidative stress is what happens when our body experiences stress from influences such as alcohol, smoking, UV rays, traffic pollution, etc. All these nasties can produce free radicals, which are unstable atoms that can damage our body. As it turns out, it’s the immune system that can really take a big hit from these dangerous atoms. The role of antioxidants is to fight these free radicals. They are your secret army against the attack from within. Antioxidants can be found in:
Beta-carotene (which, incidentally, the body converts into vitamin A) - a red/orange pigment found in fruit and plants
Flavonoids - plant chemicals or phytonutrients found in most plants and vegetables
Selenium - a soil mineral that is naturally found in water and some foods
Examples - oysters, pork, turkey, acai berries, apples, pears, bananas, squash, tomatoes, aubergine, walnuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, tea, red wine, chocolate.
We think about foods to keep the gut healthy, what about fluids?
When you drink water you absorb approximately 80% in the large intestine. It helps keep this area smooth and hydrated, which in turn encourages food to better move through its journey in the body before it ultimately makes an exit. This in itself is part of our detoxification process. People who suffer from constipation sometimes just aren’t drinking enough water, making it difficult and often painful for stools to pass. This in turn creates toxins, and the downward spiral commences. The NHS recommends six to eight glasses of fresh water a day. However, it’s important to take this with a grain of salt as of course there are factors that might call for more (exercise/ heat/ air-conditioning etc). We typically suggest 3-4 litres per day.
Sweeteners and artificial flavourings that are added to water will undo the good you’re trying to achieve, but there are tasty alternatives to plain water. Herbal anti inflammatory teas can not only be delicious but, depending on the herb, they too can play a role in kick-starting or calming our digestion. Fennel, liquorice, ginger, turmeric, lavender - each makes for an absolutely delicious brew that is also very good for you.
But it’s not just the water we drink that might help us… Perhaps there is no better example of this than Dutchman Wim Hof, aka The Iceman. An extreme athlete with an impressive resilience to the cold, Wim Hof and his eponymously named Method believe that exposure to cold (by way of a cold shower, wild swimming etc) triggers myriad benefits. It’s a natural anti inflammatory, it balances hormone levels, improves sleep and boosts endorphins. He has demonstrated that cold therapy is a natural booster for the immune system!
Get your swimming togs ready!
Eat the rainbow
So, what’s on the menu tonight?
Whatever you do, try to aim for spread and balance. Look for a diet that delivers plenty of colour. That in turn will deliver a broad array of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals and really is the ticket to optimum health. Also, it just makes life more exciting! Where is the fun in sitting down to the same meal day in, day out?
And, as the nurses always say, keep up your fluids.
We really hope you’ve found this useful, if not even a little bit inspiring for your next culinary creation! If you want some great healthy recipe ideas, visit here. Otherwise, be good to your gut and good to yourself!
Corinna and The Edible Health Team.
*The information we have provided herewith, and all linked materials, are not intended nor should they be construed as medical advice. Moreover, the information herewith should not be used as a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. Please refer to our Terms and Conditions and consult your General Practitioner for advice specific for you.