What is this ‘gut’
I have written a book on the subject, and given lectures all over the world on this issue, and yet I feel we need to keep hammering it out for everyone and stress the importance of gut health. The word ‘gut’ refers to the gastrointestinal tract, comprising the alimentary canal, i.e., a tube-like passage that begins at the mouth and ends at the anus. This is where digestion, absorption and elimination of leftover (unabsorbed) food takes place. Also, when I refer to the microbiota/microbes/microorganisms in the gut, I am referring to those that form a part of the digestive system, i.e., those mainly in your intestines, because this is where the largest and most important microbial community in the body resides. It plays an important role in your overall health.
The gut impacts our brain positively or negatively. Brain inflammation is real and plays a crucial role in mental health as well. The microbiome is all the viruses, fungi, bacteria that live in the human body. These are on the skin, in the mouth, in the digestive tract, ovaries, lungs, ears, eyes, nose…just everywhere. The microbiome has an impact on immunity, and 70 per cent of the of your immune cells are in the gut.
Why is gut health important?
As mention earlier, 70 per cent of the of your immune cells are in the gut. A healthy cell structure in the GI tract, including proper functioning of the villi (small projections that protrude from the epithelial lining of the small intestine’s walls) and tight cell junctions (the spaces between epithelial cells that are sealed tight and allow only fully digested material to be absorbed), are important for the intestinal barrier. The human intestine, while absorbing nutrients from the food we eat, also functions as a barrier that prevents harmful pathogens (microbes) from entering our body or bloodstream. The digestive tract protects you from disease and any kind of outside infections; it is your immune barrier—your gatekeeper. It works extra hard not only to extract nutrients from your food but also to sort through and deal with the stockpile of undigested food, new microorganisms and the ones already present. This gang of microorganisms are a mix of good guys, bad guys and the neutral ones. I can’t emphasize enough that the more diverse your gut microbes, the healthier you are.
What causes poor gut health
Ingesting chemicals as a result of eating food that is not washed properly (that’s why the stress on organic), having junk food, sugar, dairy, white refined flour (maida), popping medication (specifically pain medication) and living under stress, strips us of everything on the immune system front, leading to systemic inflammation. It predisposes you to an autoimmune condition. Inflammation is the body’s coping mechanism to outside elements that it cannot assimilate or recognize on the inside. Modern medicine has just started recognizing the correlation between systemic inflammation and disease. You could have varying degrees of inflammation, and in many ways, the macrobiotic diet, by controlling certain factors—i.e., bringing in the balance of yin and yang—helps keep the body’s inflammatory response under check. Inflammation, immunity and thereby gut health are all interlinked. Chronic inflammation will eventually lead to weakened immunity. Like the lady who walks the rope in a circus and does a perfect balancing act, our body attempts to achieve that perfect balance between inflammation and strong immunity.
The big question then is how do we improve gut health?
While I have gone into detail in my book The Detox Diet, I cannot emphasize that eating right and removing the factors stated above are the two crucial elements to maintain gut health. What can we do to help our guts
- Quit sugar, reduce dairy, refined carbohydrates, refined foods, saturated fats (animal protein and dairy) and take pain medication and antibiotics if only necessary. Too much alcohol also destroys the gut microbiome. These will cause a breakdown of the gut bacteria.
- Eating foods high in fibre are helpful, as Justin and Erica Sonnenburgs term the right fibre as microbiota-accessible carbohydrates (MACs) these include: Whole grains, Bean/lentils, vegetables, nuts and seeds, and fruit.
- Eating a diverse range of foods coming from nature. Just remember, gut bacteria need to be diverse, and focusing on just one kind of food group or food within that food group does not help. For example, you have yellow mung dahl every day and do not eat other varieties. Or, you only eat brown rice and do not use black or red rice. Remember the term diversity here, and diverse foods bring in that bacterial diversity.
- Add prebiotics: Garlic, onions, leeks, bananas, chicory root, barley (jov), whole or steel-cut pats, apples, cacao, konjac root (shirataki noodles), chia/flax seeds, and seaweed and wheat verse strains of bacteria.
- Add fermented foods: Kanji, rejuvelac, sauerkraut, kimchi, pressed salad, quick pickles in brine or apple cider vinegar, dosa/idlis, kefir, sourdough bread, yoghurt….the list is endless.
- Minimize stress, as knotted nerves affect your gut, we all know about the gut-brain connection.
- Chew your food: It helps release the right enzymes and also pre-digests the food to help the gut better absorb nutrients.
- Add foods that have collagen: Bone broth (if you are a non-vegetarian), use collagen peptides, keep protein consumption adequate in your diet.
- Focus on postbiotics (bioactive compounds): The waste from probiotics, and they feed prebiotics. For postbiotics, you need to keep the fiber high in your diet.
- Movement and exercise aids in building up good gut bacteria, by promoting diverse strains of bacteria.
- Keep a pet, it has been proved that having a pet improves your chances of building up diversity.
- Play in the dirt: The soil as we all know has microorganisms, and it’s the one ecosystem with diverse strains of bacteria. If you walk in the soil (like walking on the grass) or encourage your kids to play in the garden, it builds diverse strains within you as well.
- Stay happy! This really helps as well.