This is IBS Awareness month. IBS is a condition that affects an estimated 10-5 of people in Europe and North America alone. IBS is classified as digestive discomfort with bloating, irregular bowel movements and one or a combination of constipation and diarrhoea. It is generally caused by an infection or as a result of a reaction to certain foods. In recent years, it seems that IBS has become an umbrella term for a variety of digestive symptoms, a label that does not always have much use in the management of the condition.
In general, we all need to love our guts. The research is coming thick and fast into the gut and our microbiome and it is more and more fascinating. The gut is known as our second brain, due to the large number of neurons present there – as many as in our spinal cord . 90% of our serotonin (our ‘happy hormone’) is produced in the gut , a link that goes back to our childhood when we talk about ‘butterflies in the tummy’ or a ‘gut feeling’. All of these basic instincts, show how the brain and the gut are inextricably linked.
There are roughly the same amount of bacteria in our gut as there are cells in the human body. This gets into the trillions and will just blow your mind if you try to think about it too much, just believe the experts! This just scratches the surface of what is going on in the gut. So, doesn’t it make sense that we need to take care of this vital organ?
Here are my 5 tips for loving your gut.
We’ve all known for a long time how important fibre is for so much of our health, including the gut. Fibre ensures that food keeps moving through the intestines and helps you to eliminate the waste. You need fibre to help bulk up your stool and fibre to keep it moving which is why it is important to consume both soluble and insoluble fibre. If you are able to eat a good range of wholegrains, green, leafy veg, fruit, nuts and seeds and beans and pulses, you are getting a healthy amount of fibre in your diet. Water is also essential for this process as it helps to wash everything through your intestines, moving the waste along and flushing out toxins.
2. Get traditional
Fermented foods have been used for hundreds of years and are still popular today in many cultures, particularly Asian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European. These foods are natural sources of probiotic bacteria which is why they are considered a vital part of a healthy diet in many parts of the world. The good news is that they are experiencing a resurgence in the booming and fashionable world of healthy eating. With books on fermented foods filling the shelves and celebrity chefs touting their benefits. What more incentive do you need?! Good options that are easy to include in the diet are kimchi and sauerkraut, both forms of pickled cabbage, along with kefir (fermented milk) and kombucha which is a form of fermented tea.
3. Start at the very beginning
As well as consuming probiotic foods, it is important to include prebiotic foods. Prebiotics feed the growth of probiotic bacteria, helping to ensure that your population keeps growing as it should be. Excellent prebiotics are foods such as Jerusalem artichoke, onions, chicory and garlic. These are generally easy foods to include in your diet on either a seasonal or daily basis. Jerusalem artichoke certainly is another food experiencing a resurgence as an ‘ugly’ vegetable that is quite fashionable to cook with now. It makes a delicious gratin and works well sautéed.
4. Look for the silver lining
Your gut lining is as important as the contents of the gut itself. It has many functions, ensuring that the correct nutrient are absorbed as they should be and that anything that should not be absorbed into systemic circulation is kept out and passed through. The gut lining can become easily irritated, particularly if we eat the wrong foods. In addition, infections by certain bugs and parasites as well as repeated use of NSAIDs can cause holes in the lining of the gut. This allows bigger particles to pass to and through and can lead to inflammation in other parts of the body and ultimately to various inflammatory conditions. The best way of protecting your gut lining is to ensure you include plenty of essential fats in your diet. These are an important part of the gut mucosa and have a protective and anti-inflammatory role.
Gelatin is another ingredient that has a similar function. Again, an old fashioned food that is seeing a new lease of life, it is popular and important in almost equal measure. One of the best sources of gelatin is meat bones and by boiling them for as long as possible you can make a nutritious stock to use as a base for many dishes. I make mine in a slow cooker which is much easier because who has time to keep an eye on a pot of bones for 12 hours?!
5. Get dirty
We have become cleaner and more hygiene conscious as a society as the years have gone by, particularly in the western world. Antibiotic use has become so extensive that scientists now warn of potential super bugs that are resistant to all antibiotics. Several exist already with some quite scary implications if one allows oneself to dwell and over-think which is something that I never do…..! Antibiotics also kill off the beneficial bacteria in the gut, depleting our population and exposing us to potential problems. In fact, in some countries, doctors prescribe probiotics along with antibiotics, to ensure that a patient repopulates their gut after the course.
Antibacterial hand gels, sprays, wipes and cleaners all contribute to a world devoid of germs and bacteria, germs and bacteria that we need. A baby is born with a completely sterile gut and starts to populate the gut bacteria as it passes through the birth canal and then is breast fed by its mother. As it grows it touches everything, putting things in the mouth, playing in dirt, eating worms, everything to horrify its mother. The fact is, that this is important as it helps our body build up immunity and a good defence. We don’t want a sterile environment, either inside or outside the gut.