There's never been a more important time to look after our gut. We know that the state of our digestion and the trillions of bacteria that inhabit our digestive tract, from mouth to our the other end, is key for mental health and for our immune system. We tend to think of diet as the only way to support gut health but as nutritional therapist Eve Kalinik, author of Happy Gut Happy Mind, £17.69 explains, the gut-mind connection is a two-way street: a happy mind is a happy gut and vice versa. It's no surprise to find that her easy-to-follow 21 gut health tips for 2021 are as much about habit changes (good news, they are free!) as what you put on your plate. Here's her gut health 101.
1. Chew, chew, chew to beat bloating as gassiness
Take time to chew your food thoroughly and while you're at it remove ALL distractions and devices while you are eating. This one change in habit can help to alleviate some of the more common gut symptoms such as bloating, gas and reflux as well as helping to tune into hunger cues more appropriately. Instead, sit in an environment conducive to optimising the process of digestion and focusing on eating slowly and mindfully.
2. Routine makes you regular
Your gut likes to have some routine and in turn, will become more regular in its movements. Try to time your meals around a similar time each day. This also creates a nice structure around the day and allows you to have crucial pockets of recovery that support the gut-brain connection. As part of this routine, you can begin the day with a probiotic supplement such as shot of Symprove, £21.95 which needs to be taken on an empty stomach 10 minutes before you eat or drink to ensure that the good bugs get to your small intestine undisturbed.
3. Include good food rather than restricting your diet
I'm a fan of positive nutrition: aim to turn the focus away from all the diets, detoxes and fads that come with the new year. Think about what you can INCLUDE rather than remove. Unnecessary restrictions of foods or food groups can lead to nutritional deficiencies as well as cultivate a negative relationship with what we eat and how we nourish ourselves physically and mentally.
4. Take a daily 'breath break'
The gut-brain connection is one that is incredibly powerful. it's worth remembering that it is also bi-directional in that the gut can also communicate back to our brain. Including some kind of daily mindfulness can help to strengthen this connection and to alleviate stress, which can negatively impact on the gut.
Just five to ten minutes per day can help to support this and it is all about consistency. Think of it like brushing your teeth or exercising to get fitter in that we need to practise regularly to build a stronger and more resilient mind. Simple breathing exercises are great and totally doable to fit into a busy lifestyle. Try to include these as part of a bedtime routine.
5. Eat the rainbow (dark chocolate counts!)
You've probably heard this before but this is why a colourful plate is so important for the gut. Polyphenols are special plant chemicals, often the same substances that give colour to plants. Crucially these polyphenols also help to feed and support the health of our gut bugs.
Having a colourful plate provides a medley of these polyphenols which helps to create a more diverse, stronger and healthier gut. Some of the highest polyphenol foods include berries, broccoli, dark leafy greens and sweet potatoes although they can also be found in less obvious food such as olive oil, herbs and spices, green tea and dark chocolate – yes, a bit of chocolate is good for your gut!
6. Fill up on fibre
Fibre is what our gut bugs (your microbiota) love to feast on - it's a crucial food source for them. Quantity is one thing but diversity is super important as the more types of fibre we eat the more varied our gut bugs.
Fibre is found in all plant foods including vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds and whole grains. Simple tips to rotate high fibre foods these could be varying your morning oats with another type of grain like rye, spelt or quinoa flakes, making up a nut and seed mix so you get a few different types in this that you can sprinkle over veggies, salads and soups. And having some frozen berries of different types so that you can mix around these easily and conveniently.
7. Get into fermented foods
The best fermented food to add to tour diet include ‘live’ natural yoghurt, kefir, miso, tempeh, kombucha , kvass, kimchi and sauerkraut just to name a few. They provide a natural source of beneficial bacteria and form a part of most cuisines. Why not experiment with making and enjoying some of the ones you are not so familiar with?
8. Move your body every day to keep your digestion moving
Getting some kind of movement into our daily routine has its obvious physical benefits but studies suggest that exercise can have a positive effect on the gut. Aiming for 20 to 30 minutes every day to get outside and have a walk can also create a moment to reset and relax.
9. Get dirty and cuddle your pets
Get out in nature and get a bit dirty! Soil exposes us to bacteria that can help to better support a more diverse and enriched gut. Stroking pets can also have a similar enriching effect and also help to support the gut-brain connection.
10. Prioritise pillow time
Not getitng enough sleeep or good qaulity sleep can affect the health of your gut and vice versa. Take the hour before bed to switch off devices and wind down the mind. Instead of mindless scrolling, try immersing yourself in a really great book, or perhaps start a journal to ‘brain dump’ swirling thoughts that might otherwise keep you awake. You could also indulge in a long soak in the bath or listen to some soothing music to help you to drift off blissfully.
11. Massage your tummy
Abdominal self-massage can help to alleviate symptoms such as gas, bloating and support movement of food through the gut. Use a massage oil and working in an anti-clockwise motion gently for around five minutes.
12. Drink two litres of water every day
The gut is a thirsty organ and needs regular watering. Most of us need at least two litres per day. A good way to achieve this could be filling a large jug with water and adding ingredients such as fresh lemon, cucumber slices and/or herbs such as mint or rosemary to give it flavour and provide a quota.
13. Be better at saying no
This might be an unexpected gut health tip, but creating strong boundaries with work and life commitments can help you manage stress better and be less prone to feelings of overwhelm or anxiety. Chronic stress can have a significant effect on the health of the gut. It is important to recognise when to say no to people and projects which also makes your ‘yes’ that much more powerful!
14. Leave 4-5 hours between meals (that includes snacks)
It's important to give our gut a bit of a break between meals as we have different microbes that help us to absorb our food and those that deal with the ‘clean-up’ operation. Aim for a gap of around four to five hours between each meal time and try to have dinner no later than two hours before bedtime. It's not just our body and mind that are tired by the end of the day, our gut is too!
15. 'Plate up' like you're on Masterchef
Even if you are dining solo, take some time to present your meal that has some care and attention. Present your food with a nice plate and perhaps even a napkin can create a marked shift in the way you eat and engage with your food that has a positive effect on satiety levels as well as optimising digestion and helping to slow and calm the mind. Even the very simplest of meals can be transformed into a multi-sensory experience just by framing it more consciously.
16. Open your curtains as soon as you wake up
Let the light flood in - this supports our natural circadian rhythms and the hormones that govern the sleep-wake cycle which can impact on our gut. Try to get out first thing in the morning to expose your skin to sunlight. This helps our body to synthesise vitamin D that is important for gut health .
17. Set screen boundaries
Adopting some screen survival techniques can better manage your relationship digital devices and the stressful effect this has on the gut-brain connection. Useful tips might be saving a drawer or box in which to put phones away at mealtimes and to signal ‘off time’ in the evening. Try dedicating a day, or even half a day per week to leave the phone off or at home. Perhaps even unfollow people and accounts that don’t nourish you mentally or emotionally.
18. Practice small acts of self-kindness
Doing this on a day-to-day basis creates a positive affirmation to yourself and to he gut-brain connection. These could be enjoying a piece of your favourite chocolate, taking time to listen to your favourite podcast, getting a nice bunch of flowers or heading to your coffee shop and taking time to sip and savour. These send messages back to yourself that you are worth it that has a nourishing effect on the gut too.
19. Focus on what you're doing well, not where you're going wrong
Yes, that is good for your gut! We have an inbuilt negative bias which means we think about what we are not doing or doing wrong rather than celebrating the things we are already achieving. To counteract this, remind yourself about the positive steps you have already taken to support yourself and your gut.
Gut health is a life-long journey so it is much more about the small consistencies and gains rather than the one-offs. And remember to exert kindness and compassion to yourself and your gut if these changes are taking a bit longer to happen. We are all different and our gut health journeys will differ too.
20. Create a better booze balance
while the odd glass of red wine may have some gut benefits too much alcohol can be one of the main triggers for gut-related symptoms. Try to sway the balance more to nights off rather than on the booze and stick to a moderate two glasses when drinking. Always aim to have with food rather than on an empty stomach. For those nights off enjoy kombucha for extra gut health benefits as well as a delicious non-alcoholic alternative.
21. Take your time on the loo for a better poo
Maintaining regularity, as well as satisfaction with our visit to the bathroom has a lot to do with how we poo. Rushing around and not allowing adequate pooping time doesn’t give our gut ample opportunity to perform at its best. We need to give our gut enough time to ‘warm up’ rather than rushing to get it over and done with. Efficiency is one thing but speed is not the aim. We can also tweak our optimum pooping position by slightly leaning forward with a straight spine and taking a moment to relax before beginning. Once done we can enjoy a sense of evacuation euphoria and go about our daily business, now that we have mastered the art of doing the business.
Eve Kalinik is an ambassador for Symprove