Why having a healthy gut is so important
Yvonne Wake is a wellbeing and lifestyle consultant whose mantra is “Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live in” With 45 years of experience in the health, wellbeing, fitness and nutrition industries she knows a thing or two about what we need to be doing to keep our bodies in optimum shape.
I met Yvonne at the fabulous health retreat she runs in SW France each year (you can read all about it here) which she leads with infectious energy and wonderfully enveloping care. It was there that she explained to me why it is that having a healthy gut is so vital to our overall health and wellbeing.
“Think of your body as a jigsaw puzzle with 12 pieces, each of which is an interconnected system
There’s your cardiovascular system which circulates blood and transports nutrients around your body
The digestive system is responsible for vitamin absorption, nutrient distribution and removing toxins
Your endocrine system is made up of many different glands including the pituitary, pineal, thyroid and adrenal glands, as well as your brain, pancreas, ovaries and testes. The immune system protects us from disease
The Integumentary system, which comprises the skin and its appendages, like hair and nails, protects our bodies from damage.
The lymphatic system transports infection-fighting white blood cells around the body through the lymphatic vessels
Your renal/urinary/excretory system is where the kidneys filter the blood
Your muscular system - your skeleton, smooth and cardiac muscles - allows movement, maintains posture and circulates blood around the body.
The skeletal system is composed of bones, cartilages and ligaments
The nervous system is a complex collection of nerves and specialised cells known as neutrons, that transmit signals between different parts of the body
Your reproductive system is pretty self-explanatory, as is
Your respiratory system which depends on a series of organs including your lungs to take in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide.
Now imagine taking one of those puzzle pieces out. The whole puzzle isn’t stable any more. So, if you don’t have a healthy gut - or digestive system - it puts your whole body out of whack.
It’s only been in the last 20 years that we’ve done enough research to start to understand exactly how the gut works and why it’s so important. There’s a reason it’s referred to as our second brain. It turns out the bacteria that live in our gut do really incredible work in our body. They break down the food we eat, absorb the nutrients and get rid of the toxins.
There’s even evidence now to suggest that many chronic diseases and illnesses, obesity, even heart disease and cancer, relate to how our gut metabolises our food.
80% of the immune system is created in the gut and without the immune system, we can't heal ourselves, and stay well.
We even create joy in our in our guts because that's where serotonin, the feel-good chemical, is made.
Your gut health is affected by food, drink, lifestyle, stress and the toxins in our environment.
You can improve the health of your gut at any age. It’s never too late. And it's easy to do, because all that’s needed is to eliminate the foods that are wrong, and feed back in the foods that are right.
Because the food we eat has changed and we're now eating so much more that’s not plant based and is heavily processed, and full of additives and sugars (which are put in to give it longer shelf life) our guts have suffered because our digestive systems aren’t producing the diverse bacteria - good and bad - that they need. Eating organic produce is best because it hasn’t been tampered with and will still contain both good and bad bacteria.
A tip or two! If you get tummy ache or bad breath, they’re both signs of a gut that isn’t working properly. And your pee shouldn’t be yellow or brown, it should be see-through.
So what kinds of food should we be eating? Vegetables like asparagus, leeks, broccoli, Jerusalem artichokes, carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, peas, bananas, whole grains, are all great because they contain lots of fibre which is key to helping keep your gut healthy.
Onion, garlic, oats, flaxseed, live yoghurt, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi, almonds, are all excellent sources of friendly bacteria, known as probiotics, which are plentiful in fermented foods too.
Olive oil is the best of all the oils because it’s rich in fatty acids and polyphenols which gut bacteria and microbes like. It’s also great for inflammation in the gut . Cook with it, drizzle it on salads and over steamed veg.
Fruit is good too. A lot of people have been put off fruit because it is high is sugar, but, it’s the right kind of sugar (the wrong type is the sort in cakes and biscuits. You definitely need to avoid that!)
Apples and bananas are especially rich in the vitamins that encourage good gut health. Bananas contain Vitamin B6, vitamin C (antioxidants) Potassium, Protein, fibre, Magnesium and folate which all compliment the gut. Apples are full of vitamin C, and are a great source of fibre.
Raspberries, mangoes, and pears are also a great source of fibre which the gut needs this.
Another top tip - don’t peel your fruit, the peel is where all the fibre is!
Ideally your diet should have plenty of plant-based foods in it. But it doesn’t need to be entirely, or even predominantly, plant based. You don’t need to avoid animal protein completely, because that's the only place where you'll get that from, unless you want to take supplements, which I don’t recommend. You can get calcium from greens, but not enough of it if that’s all you eat.
The easiest way to start rebalancing your gut is to gently introduce some simple food swaps. it's not necessary to just suddenly stop drinking or eating chocolate - although if you can, that’s great! Instead just slowly take out the bad stuff and start sneaking in the good stuff. Perhaps next time you feel like eating chocolate have some nuts instead, for example. Or if you feel like a lump of cheese, instead crunch on some celery.
If we make sure that our gut is receiving the right foods and the right elements to make all the bacteria work, all those jigsaw pieces are nice and tight and stuck together.
How do you feel when your gut is working at its optimum? You feel full of energy, you feel young. You feel like you can do anything because you've got still got the same kind of power that you had when you were younger. Your skin's good. Your hair is good. You sleep well. You dance well. Your whole body's is at ease with itself.”
Find out more about Yvonne and the work she does here
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