After knocking back mug after mug of hot chocolate, a few too many beers and entertaining a lurid affair with the classic Aussie pavlova – okay fine, it’s actually a New Zealand creation – your gut might be feeling a little worse for wear – but it’s what you can’t see that counts. From probiotics to digestion-boosting tricks, here are our top tips to restore gut health this festive season and beyond.
If you’ve been wondering how to improve your gut health – especially as we move into the festive season; a time of indulgence and excess – you’ve come to the right place. We’ll be unpacking what the gut microbiome is and how it influences our overall health, along with the foods that restore balance and promote the growth of good bacteria in our digestive tract. Here’s what you need to know.
Gut health and the microbiome
Our gut microbiome rides a careful balance of trillions of bacteria which have the power to make or break our overall health – from your mood to your weight to your circulation, it’s all linked. What is the microbiome, you ask? Well, this complex structure is made up of over a hundred trillion good and bad bacteria – and the good part is, we have the power to sway things in our favour. To restore gut health, you’ll want to focus on what you’re fuelling it with – yep, we’re talking about food. What we eat is integral in shaping the flora living in the gut. But it’s not just about what you eat, it’s also about what you don’t eat – diets high in added sugars, alcohol and trans fats can lead to a dysregulation of this system. One of the biggest offenders is sugar, and this is because diets high in this addictive substance can lead to changes to the gut bacteria, with research finding it can lower microbial diversity, resulting in inflammation and lower defences. This is because the gut affects our entire bodies – and that includes our immunity. Poor gut health is a mere stepping stone to a weak immune system.
Research shows a connection between our eating habits and how often we pick up infections, with one study revealing the gut microbiome regulates the immune response to pathogens. One of the big reasons for dysregulated gut health is excess sugar consumption. This is because research shows it can suppress the immune response, with only a 75-gram dose required to affect immunity. One of the best ways to get your immune system back in order is through a diet overhaul and a focus on whole, minimally-processed foods. You might also notice cognitive symptoms like poor mental clarity and brain fog. Research shows the gut has a direct link to the brain and gut inflammation throws our neurotransmitters out of whack, leading to those cognitive symptoms. Common gut bacteria like Proteobacteria and Bacteroidetes can cause inflammation when we’re lacking good gut bacteria, and the cause for this is often down to a diet high in added sugars and trans fats, with studies showing the latter results in a higher amount of C-reactive protein – this is one of the markers for inflammation. Some of the other distressing signs of a dysregulated microbiome include the following:
- Gut pain
- Bloating, especially after eating
- Unusual food sensitivities
If we don’t restore our gut health and combat inflammation, we can end up at a greater risk for developing a number of diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders and mental health disorders.
Best probiotics for gut health
Fermented foods are your best weapon in the fight to improve gut health and it comes down to one major thing – probiotics. These are good bacteria which colonise our gut and help get that balance back in our favour. The fermentation process involves preserving food, originally having been used to extend shelf life in the days before our trusty refrigerators. But that’s not its only benefit – fermentation produces microorganisms which provide beneficial, gut-boosting bacteria and create that familiar acidic taste we associate with fermented foods. Here are a few to include in your diet to improve gut health:
Fermented foods don’t just improve your gut health by providing these healthy bacteria, they also improve the bioavailability of other nutrients – this means they’re more readily absorbed and used by our bodies. This is especially evident in grains, dairy products and legumes that are harder to digest in their original forms. Grains in particular have higher levels of phytic acid pre-fermentation, and this acid binds to nutrients and prevents us from properly absorbing them. That’s why fermentation is so beneficial to our gut – research shows it strips those nutrient-binding acids away and leaves you with a more bioavailable product that’s easier on the digestive system.
The best diet for gut health
Along with probiotics, the other foods in our diets also have a significant role to play – in fact, they have a more important role than probiotics themselves. You’ll want to prioritise whole, fresh fruits and veggies, along with seeds and nuts, legumes and whole grains. Remember to keep it minimally-processed and keep an eye on any added sugars. Here are a few of the groups that are essential for restoring gut health:
Healthy fats: If you’re looking to improve your gut health, the first place to start is with healthy fats – this is because they improve digestion and ensure we can absorb other nutrients. Vitamins A, D and E are fat soluble, meaning we need a fat source to absorb them properly. They also help balance blood-sugar levels, boost brain health and regulate your appetite. You’ll find these fats in the following foods:
- Olive oil
- Coconut milk
Fibre: Fibre is one of the key heroes for a healthy microbiome, with studies showing it reduces hunger frequency, so we’ll be less likely to splurge on those inflammatory foods. It’s also essential for the following functions:
- Blood sugar regulation
- Hunger regulation
- Helps with regularity
- Reduces the risk of heart disease
You’ll want to enjoy a variety of high-fibre foods for gut health, as a lack of this nutrient is sure to result in an unbalanced microbiome. With only 5% of us getting enough fibre, it’s no surprise so many of us are having gut issues. 19 to 38 grams per day is the current daily intake recommendation, and it’s not that hard to reach when you’re eating a range of fibre sources. Go for whole grains, legumes, fruit and veggies, nuts and seeds.
Cut out inflammatory foods: As we said above, it’s also about what you don’t eat. Inflammatory foods are the first thing to cut out when you’re looking to restore your gut health. Once you identify the inflammatory foods around you, you’ll start to notice them everywhere. From processed snacks to cereals, confectionery and fast food – these foods are loaded with preservatives, added sugars, excess salt and hydrogenated, ultra-processed oils known for messing with our hormones. That’s right, a destabilised gut can result in equally destabilised hormones as a result of the intrinsic link between the two. From stress hormones to endocrine hormones, it’s all affected – and if you’re looking to balance your hormones, you’d best start with your gut. You’ll also have the added benefit of reducing your risk for heart disease, because inflammation doesn’t leave any stone unturned! But back to balancing hormones – an estimated 80% of women are affected by hormonal imbalances, which research has shown can go on to lead to the development of diseases like Alzheimer’s, so by prioritising anti-inflammatory foods and leaving out the rest, you’re off to a good start. Inflammatory foods to avoid include:
- Deep fried foods
- Fast food
- Highly-processed foods
- Foods with excess added sugars
- Trans fats
- Commercially baked cakes and cookies
On the flipside, foods like turmeric, ginger and berries are all known for their anti-inflammatory benefits, so it’s worth getting a good dose of these if you’re looking to balance your hormones, restore your gut health and fight inflammation.
So, this festive season, prioritise gut-healthy foods – you might even find you enjoy the healthy stuff more than the ultra-processed stuff. But that doesn’t mean you have to avoid the indulgent desserts and hearty meals that are part and parcel for this time of year – in fact, we released our Holiday Entertaining Guide for this very purpose. It’s loaded with recipes for delicious cakes, exciting cocktails and comforting, traditional meals to line the table with this festive season. So, you can restore your gut health and enjoy some mouth-watering meals at the same time. We swear, they’re not mutually exclusive! Check out our eBook HERE. It’s loaded with 51 fun recipes that transport you back to those childhood family feasts – minus the sugar crash, of course! We've got mains, sides, desserts and festive drinks to mark the occasion.
If you’ve been having a little trouble keeping that sugar addiction at bay, we’re here to help. We know it can be hard to stick to your health goals – especially when you’re trying to manage it alone. Join us for the 8-Week Program where we’ll be quitting sugar and turning our health dreams into a reality. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:
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